If your head has ever become uncontrollably itchy while listening to somebody talk about nits, or you’ve crossed your legs at the sight of a man taking a hit to the groin, rest assured, you’re not alone. Our responses to other people’s experiences are so ingrained in the human psyche that they are often completely subconscious. Simon Moss, associate professor of psychology at Charles Darwin University, explained to ABC Radio Darwin that humans had evolved to emulate other people’s emotions in a range of situations. “Even if someone is looking a bit sad, and we’re not aware of that, we naturally mirror their sad expression,” he said. “Our own expression becomes a bit sadder and as a consequence we feel sadder as well.” According to Associate Professor Moss, perceiving the suffering of another person, or even hearing about their suffering, triggers an automatic response in the brain. “We’ve learned that it’s in our interest to be very similar to other people, because people are more likely to trust us if they feel that we’re similar to them,” he said. “Unconsciously they feel like, ‘That person is part of our group, we can trust them, they’re good to us rather than a competitor or rival.'” The tendency for us to itch at the sight or thought of head lice is part of the same phenomenon that can make a yawn travel around a room. “Another reason this tendency has evolved is to promote empathy,” Associate Professor Moss said. He said empathic responses to other people’s situations, whether real or perceived, are caused by mirror neurons firing in the brain. “To a certain degree, observing something generates the same effect in our brain as experiencing it. “We can then empathise and understand, and we can then accommodate them, show them we know what it’s like, and show we can help them. “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][And] this empathy occurs unconsciously, and basically immediately.”
Is everyone empathic?
Like it or not, all primates have mirror neurons and are therefore naturally empathic even if they don’t often show it. “There was some belief that perhaps people with autism spectrum disorder, who aren’t always empathic and don’t necessarily show the same social skills, might have a deficiency in these mirror neurons,” Associate Professor Moss said. “But recent evidence suggests that most children and adults with autism spectrum disorder still have intact mirror neurons and still experience this kind of empathy.” He said one of the only known exceptions to the rule exists in people with psychopathic tendencies. “And that is sometimes used to explain their psychopathic tendencies, because they’re not able to feel the hurt they’re inflicting on other people.”
ABC News, 17 July 2017 ; http://www.abc.net.au/news/[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]