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Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People

Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People:

 

HABIT 1: TALK WITH STRANGERS

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we allhad as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

HABIT 2: CHALLENGE PREJUDICES AND DISCOVER COMMONALITIES

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927.Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.

In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

HABIT 3: TRY ANOTHER PERSON’S LIFE

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model. After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his bookDown and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

HABIT 4: LISTEN HARD—AND OPEN UP

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

HABIT 5: INSPIRE MASS ACTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

HABIT 6: DEVELOP AN AMBITIOUS IMAGINATION

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.

Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathyinitiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.


Via Jim Manske, Jone Johnson Lewis
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John Michel's curator insight, July 26, 2013 10:58 PM

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

Social Neuroscience Advances
Understanding ourselves and how we interact
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Neural stem cells in the adult human brain

For decades, it was believed that the adult brain was a quiescent organ unable to produce new neurons. At the beginning of the1960's, this dogma was challenged by a small group of neuroscientists. To date, it is well-known that new neurons are generated in the adult brain throughout life. Adult neurogenesis is primary confined to the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the forebrain and the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus within the hippocampus. In both the human and the rodent brain, the primary progenitor of adult SVZ is a subpopulation of astrocytes that have stem-cell-like features. The human SVZ possesses a peculiar cell composition and displays important organizational differences when compared to the SVZ of other mammals. Some evidence suggests that the human SVZ may be not only an endogenous source of neural precursor cells for brain repair, but also a source of brain tumors. In this review, we described the cytoarchitecture and cellular composition of the SVZ in the adult human brain. We also discussed some clinical implications of SVZ, such as: stem-cell-based therapies against neurodegenerative diseases and its potential as a source of malignant cells. Understanding the biology of human SVZ and its neural progenitors is one of the crucial steps to develop novel therapies against neurological diseases in humans.

Via Miloš Bajčetić
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Pills for anxiety and sleep problems not linked to increased dementia risk

Pills for anxiety and sleep problems not linked to increased dementia risk | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Taking benzodiazepines (widely used drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia) is not associated with an increased dementia risk in older adults, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

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10 Myths About Traumatic Brain Injury

10 Myths About Traumatic Brain Injury | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Traumatic brain injury and its causes, symptoms, and treatment are often misunderstood and can lead to mishandling of the issues surrounding it.

Via Gerald Carey
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Gerald Carey's curator insight, February 6, 2016 6:22 PM

Although the author doesn't use a lot of references or links, she is an expert on combat trauma and this makes this list worth reading.

Gage Tarrant's curator insight, March 4, 2016 8:53 PM

Although the author doesn't use a lot of references or links, she is an expert on combat trauma and this makes this list worth reading.

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How the GyroGlove Steadies Hands of Parkinson’s Patients

How the GyroGlove Steadies Hands of Parkinson’s Patients | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
A wearable device promises to help steady hand tremors by using an old technology—gyroscopes.


When he was a 24-year-old medical student living in London, Faii Ong was assigned to care for a 103-year-old patient who suffered from Parkinson’s, the progressive neurological condition that affects a person’s ease of movement. After watching her struggle to eat a bowl of soup, Ong asked another nurse what more could be done to help the woman. “There’s nothing,” he was grimly told.


Ong, now 26, didn’t accept the answer. He began to search for a solution that might offset the tremulous symptoms of Parkinson’s, a disease that affects one in 500 people, not through drugs but physics. After evaluating the use of elastic bands, weights, springs, hydraulics, and even soft robotics, Ong settled on a simpler solution, one that he recognized from childhood toys. “Mechanical gyroscopes are like spinning tops: they always try to stay upright by conserving angular momentum,” he explains. “My idea was to use gyroscopes to instantaneously and proportionally resist a person’s hand movement, thereby dampening any tremors in the wearer’s hand.”


Together with a number of other students from Imperial College London, Ong worked in the university’s prototyping laboratory to run numerous tests. An early prototype of a device, called GyroGlove, proved his instinct correct. Patients report that wearing the GyroGlove, which Ong believes to be the first wearable treatment solution for hand tremors, is like plunging your hand into thick syrup, where movement is free but simultaneously slowed. In benchtop tests, the team found the glove reduces tremors by up to 90 percent.


GyroGlove’s design is simple. It uses a miniature, dynamically adjustable gyroscope, which sits on the back of the hand, within a plastic casing attached to the glove’s material. When the device is switched on, the battery-powered gyroscope whirs to life. Its orientation is adjusted by a precession hinge and turntable, both controlled by a small circuit board, thereby pushing back against the wearer’s movements as the gyroscope tries to right itself.


While the initial prototypes of the device still require refinements to size and noise, Alison McGregor, professor of musculoskeletal biodynamics at Imperial College, who has been a mentor to the team, says the device “holds great promise and could have a significant impact on users’ quality of life.” Helen Matthews of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust agrees: “GyroGlove will make everyday tasks such as using a computer, writing, cooking, and driving possible for sufferers,” she says.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Mike Oehme's curator insight, January 26, 2016 2:47 AM

Interesting idea, unfortunately I don't have a gyro trainer at home anymore

 

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Viral Tool Maps Brain Activity in Real Time

Viral Tool Maps Brain Activity in Real Time | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join. Our neuroscience social network has science groups, discussion forums, free books, resources, science videos and more.
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Testosterone Influences Emotional Regulation in Psychopathic Brain

Testosterone Influences Emotional Regulation in Psychopathic Brain | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join. Our neuroscience social network has science groups, discussion forums, free books, resources, science videos and more.
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Capacity For Memory is Ten Times Greater Than Previously Thought

Capacity For Memory is Ten Times Greater Than Previously Thought | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join. Our neuroscience social network has science groups, discussion forums, free books, resources, science videos and more.

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Predicting Who May Develop Alzheimer’s, and Who May Not

Predicting Who May Develop Alzheimer’s, and Who May Not | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Investigators have wondered why the brains of some cognitively-intact elderly individuals have abundant pathology on autopsy or significant amyloid deposition on neuroimaging that are characteristic of Alzheimer disease (AD). Researchers reporting in the American Journal of Pathology investigated biochemical factors and identified differences in proteins from parietal cortex synapses between patients with and those without manifestation of dementia. Specifically, early-stage AD patients had elevated concentrations of synaptic soluble amyloid-β (Aβ) oligomers compared to controls who were not demented but displayed signs of AD pathology. Synapse-associated hyperphosphorylated tau (p-tau) levels did not increase until late-stage AD.

 

"Investigators examined whether synaptic Aβ levels were associated with neuritic plaque levels in the parietal cortex. They found little or no evidence of Aβ immunolabeling in either of the control groups but observed a rise in synaptic Aβ concentration associated with increasing neuropathologic disease stages. Synaptic Aβ levels highly correlated with the occurrence of plaque. Image is for illustrative purposes only."


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Eat Less and Be Happy

Eat Less and Be Happy | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join.

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How The Brain Distinguishes Safety From Danger

How The Brain Distinguishes Safety From Danger | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join.

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What Are The Odds of That? Risky Gambling Choices Influenced by Single Brain Connection

What Are The Odds of That? Risky Gambling Choices Influenced by Single Brain Connection | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

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SumaLateral Whole Brain Image

SumaLateral Whole Brain Image | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Multi-color image of whole brain for brain imaging research. This image was created using a computer image processing program (called SUMA), which is used to make sense of data generated by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

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Revolutionary Neuroscience Technique Slated for Human Clinical Trials

Revolutionary Neuroscience Technique Slated for Human Clinical Trials | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Optogenetics may treat chronic pain and other neurological disorders

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'Schizophrenia' does not exist, argues expert

'Schizophrenia' does not exist, argues expert | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

The term "schizophrenia," with its connotation of hopeless chronic brain disease, should be dropped and replaced with something like "psychosis spectrum syndrome," argues a professor of psychiatry in The BMJ today.

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Receptors inside nerve cells may be a key to controlling pain

Receptors inside nerve cells may be a key to controlling pain | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

In real estate, location is key. It now seems the same concept holds true when it comes to stopping pain.

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Modelling how the brain makes complex decisions

Modelling how the brain makes complex decisions | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Researchers have constructed the first comprehensive model of how neurons in the brain behave when faced with a complex decision-making process, and how they adapt and learn from mistakes.

The mathematical model, developed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, is the first biologically realistic account of the process, and is able to predict not only behaviour, but also neural activity. The results, reported in The Journal of Neuroscience, could aid in the understanding of conditions from obsessive compulsive disorder and addiction to Parkinson’s disease.

The model was compared to experimental data for a wide-ranging set of tasks, from simple binary choices to multistep sequential decision making. It accurately captures behavioural choice probabilities and predicts choice reversal in an experiment, a hallmark of complex decision making.

Via Miloš Bajčetić
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Carlos Rodrigues Cadre's curator insight, February 7, 2016 7:54 AM

adicionar sua visão ...

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Transition to Chaos in Random Neuronal Networks

Transition to Chaos in Random Neuronal Networks | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Cortical neural circuits have been hypothesized to operate in a regime termed the “edge of chaos.” A new theoretical study puts this regime in a more biologically plausible perspective.

 

Transition to Chaos in Random Neuronal Networks
Jonathan Kadmon and Haim Sompolinsky
Phys. Rev. X 5, 041030 (2015)

http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevX.5.041030


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Anxiety and Chronic Stress May Increase Depression and Alzheimer’s Risk

Anxiety and Chronic Stress May Increase Depression and Alzheimer’s Risk | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
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How Our Memories Guide Attention

How Our Memories Guide Attention | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
A team of researchers has discovered that differences in the types of memories we have influence the nature of our future encounters. Their findings show how distinct parts of the brain, underlying different kinds of memories, also influence our attention in new situations.

“We’ve long understood there are different types of memories, but what these findings reveal are how different kinds of memories can drive our attention in the future,” explains Elizabeth Goldfarb, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Psychology.

It’s been established that the types of memories we have include episodic memories—characterized by our recollections of the contextual details of life events, such as remembering the layout and location of objects in a familiar room —as well as “habitual” or “rigid” memories. The latter are frequently invoked in our daily lives and are reflexive in nature—for instance, if you take a right turn at a stop sign you pass on your way to work everyday, and you then habitually take a right instead of a left even when you are not going to work.

Previous research has shown that these different types of memories depend on different brain systems, with the hippocampus important for episodic memories and the striatum mediating habitual memories. Less understood, however, are the neurological processes by which these different kinds of memories can function as guides of attention to novel situations.

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Consoling Voles Hint at Animal Empathy

Consoling Voles Hint at Animal Empathy | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it
Larry Young from Emory University, who studies prairie voles, has seen this behavior again and again. To him, it's a sign that the rodents are showing empathy.

Such claims have proven controversial in the past. For example, in 2012, scientists at the University of Chicago showed that rats will free trapped cage-mates, even if they have to sacrifice a bit of chocolate to do so. The researchers billed these rescues as evidence of empathy—that “rats free their cagemate in order to end distress.”


ED YONG


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I Wonder What It’s Like To Have Empathy

I Wonder What It’s Like To Have Empathy | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

There is a bit of a coldness to many of us on the spectrum. That’s not to say we’re mean. Not at all. In my experience individuals with autism tend to be more patient, loyal, and tolerant of differences than other people. But we do tend to look at things in a more utilitarian light.


Empathy means you feel what other people feel, right? That’s affective empathy. Cognitive empathy is knowing why someone feels the way they do. I read a study somewhere that said autistics have affective empathy and not cognitive. But, personally speaking, most autistics I know are much better at predicting someone’s feelings than connecting with them.


We can learn social skills with time.


By Gwendolyn Kansen 


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Retinal Implants Improve Image Sharpness For Those With Vision Loss

Retinal Implants Improve Image Sharpness For Those With Vision Loss | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Neuroscience News has recent neuroscience research articles, brain research news, neurology studies and neuroscience resources for neuroscientists, students, and science fans and is always free to join.

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Questioning Our Morality: Zoning Out or Deep Thinking?

Questioning Our Morality: Zoning Out or Deep Thinking? | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

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The Five Myths of Self-Compassion

The Five Myths of Self-Compassion | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Kristin Neff tackles the misconceptions that stop us from being kinder to ourselves.

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Blocking brain inflammation 'halts Alzheimer's disease' - BBC News

Blocking brain inflammation 'halts Alzheimer's disease' - BBC News | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

Blocking the production of new immune cells in the brain could reduce memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.


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