Empathy & Perspective Taking: How Social Skills Are Built

Understanding what other people want, how they feel, and how they see the world is becoming increasingly important in our complex, globalized society. Social skills enable us to make friends and create a network of people who support us. But not everyone finds it easy to interact with other people. One of the main reasons is that two of the most important social skills — empathy, i.e. being able to empathize with the other person’s emotions, and the ability to take a perspective, i.e. being able to gain an information by adopting another person’s point of view — are developed to different degrees.

Researchers have long been trying to find out what helps one to understand others. The more you know about these two social skills, the better you can help people to form social relationships. However, it still not exactly clear what empathy and perspective taking are (the latter is also known as “theory of mind”).

Being able to read a person’s emotions through their eyes, understand a funny story, or interpret the action of another person — in everyday life there are always social situations that require these two important abilities. However, they each require a combination of different individual subordinate skills. If it is necessary to interpret looks and facial expressions in one situation, in another it may be necessary to think along with the cultural background of the narrator or to know his or her current needs.

To date, countless studies have been conducted that examine empathy and perspective taking as a whole. However, it has not yet been clarified what constitutes the core of both competencies and where in the brain their bases lie. Philipp Kanske, former MPI CBS research group leader and currently professor at the TU Dresden, together with Matthias Schurz from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and an international team of researchers, have now developed a comprehensive explanatory model.

“Both of these abilities are processed in the brain by a ‘main network’ specialised in empathy or changing perspective, which is activated in every social situation. But, depending on the situation, it also involves additional networks,” Kanske explains, referring to the results of the study, which has just been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. If we read the thoughts and feelings of others, for example, from their eyes, other additional regions are involved than if we deduce them from their actions or from a narrative. “The brain is thus able to react very flexibly to individual requirements.”

For empathy, a main network that can recognise acutely significant situations, for example, by processing fear, works together with additional specialised regions, for example, for face or speech recognition. When changing perspective, in turn, the regions that are also used for remembering the past or fantasising about the future, i.e., for thoughts that deal with things that cannot be observed at the moment, are active as the core network. Here too, additional brain regions are switched on in each concrete situation.

Through their analyses, the researchers have also found out that particularly complex social problems require a combination of empathy and a change of perspective. People who are particularly competent socially seem to view the other person in both ways — on the basis of feelings and on the basis of thoughts. In their judgement, they then find the right balance between the two.

“Our analysis also shows, however, that a lack of one of the two social skills can also mean that not this skill as a whole is limited. It may be that only a certain factor is affected, such as understanding facial expressions or speech melody,” adds Kanske. A single test is therefore not sufficient to certify a person’s lack of social skills. Rather, there must be a series of tests to actually assess them as having little empathy, or as being unable to take the other person’s point of view.

The scientists have investigated these relationships by means of a large-scale meta-analysis. They identified, on the one hand, commonalities in the MRI pattern of the 188 individual studies examined when the participants used empathy or perspective taking. This allowed the localisation of the core regions in the brain for each of the two social skills. However, results also indicated how the MRI patterns differed depending on the specific task and, therefore, which additional brain regions were used.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthias Schurz, Joaquim Radua, Matthias G. Tholen, Lara Maliske, Daniel S. Margulies, Rogier B. Mars, Jerome Sallet, Philipp Kanske. Toward a hierarchical model of social cognition: A neuroimaging meta-analysis and integrative review of empathy and theory of mind.. Psychological Bulletin, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/bul0000303

Cite This Page:

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “Empathy and perspective taking: How social skills are built.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110090427.htm>.

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How Social Media Can Change Your Business – Pj Germain

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Going viral is almost everyone’s dream. If your company goes viral you make more sales because more eyeballs are looking at you. Social media has taken branding to a whole new level because it’s easy to reach everyone around the world no matter where you are. Also because of all the content, you can bombard your fans/customers with, such as promotional videos or exclusive discounts and events coming up…..

Read more: http://pureresiduals.com/how-to-free-traffic-social-media/

 

 

 

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See How Many Times Your School District Has Been Investigated for Civil Rights Violations – Beth Skwarecki

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If you believe your school district or college is discriminating against students on the basis of sex, race, or disability, you’re entitled to file a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Sexual harassment and assault are also grounds for complaints. The office is supposed to investigate fully and, if necessary, recommend corrective action to right any wrongs.

But ProPublica reports that the Department of Education is now dismissing far more cases without taking action under Betsy DeVos than it did under her predecessors. To go along with their report, they have published a tool that lets you look up your school district or college to see how many investigations have been opened in the last few years, and how they were resolved.

The data doesn’t break out individual schools, so New York City’s entire school district shows up as one entry with hundreds of cases. But if you look up a smaller district, or a college, the data becomes more meaningful—two cases at in one Pennsylvania district I checked. Six at the University of Pittsburgh, but 15 at that same university’s medical school, which is listed separately.

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For the full details on what the cases are about, you’ll have to check local news or other sources; ProPublica only provides dates and some very basic information on the type of complaint and the nature of the resolution. But it’s worth checking to see what’s happening at your district that you might not have known about.

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What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most – Lydia Sohn

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My preconceptions about older people first began to crumble when one of my congregants, a woman in her 80s, came into my office seeking pastoral care. She had been widowed for several years but the reason for her distress was not the loss of her husband. It was her falling in love with a married man. As she shared her story with me over a cup of tea and Kleenex, I tried to keep a professional and compassionate countenance, though, internally, I was bewildered by the realization that even into their 80s, people still fall for one another in that teenage, butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of way.

One of the strange and wonderful features of my job as a minister is that I get to be a confidant and advisor to people at all stages of life. I’ve worked with people who are double and even triple my age. Experience like this is rare; our economic structure and workforce are stratified, and most people are employed within their own demographics. But because I’m a minister in a mainline denomination with an aging base, the people I primarily interact with are over the age of 60. I came into my job assuming that I, a Korean-American woman in my mid-30s, would not be able to connect with these people — they’re from a completely different racial and cultural background than me. It did not take long for me to discover how very wrong I was.

We all have joys, hopes, fears, and longings that never go away no matter how old we get. Until recently, I mistakenly associated deep yearnings and ambitions with the energy and idealism of youth. My subconscious and unexamined assumption was that the elderly transcend these desires because they become more stoic and sage-like over time. Or the opposite: They become disillusioned by life and gradually shed their vibrancy and vitality.

When I initially realized that my assumptions might be wrong, I set out to research the internal lives of older people. Who really were they, and what had they learned in life? Using my congregation as a resource, I interviewed several members in their 90s with a pen, notebook, a listening ear and a promise to keep everyone anonymous. I did not hold back, asking them burning questions about their fears, hopes, sex lives or lack thereof. Fortunately, I had willing participants. Many of them were flattered by my interest, as America tends to forget people as they age.


I began each conversation by asking if they had any regrets. By this point, they’d lived long enough to look at life from multiple angles so I knew their responses would be meaningful. Most of their regrets revolved around their families. They wished relationships, either with their children or between their children, turned out differently. These relational fractures, I could see on their faces, still caused them much pain and sorrow. One of my interviewees has two children who haven’t seen or spoken to each another for over two decades. She lamented that this, among all the mistakes and regrets she could bring to mind, was the single thing keeping her up at night.

I then moved on to the happiest moments of their lives. Every single one of these 90-something-year-olds, all of whom are widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home. As a busy young mom and working professional who frequently fantasizes about the faraway, imagined pleasures of retirement, I quickly responded, “But weren’t those the most stressful times of your lives?” Yes of course, they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest.

Their responses intrigued me. They contradicted a well-known article on happiness in The Economist, “The U-bend of Life.” The article went viral in 2010 and was a common conversation topic among my family and friends. Its counter-intuitive yet completely reasonable analyses seemed to resonate with my generation.

The theory of the “U-bend” came about as researchers discovered consistent findings from several independent research projects on happiness and well-being around the world. They concluded that happiness, pleasure and enjoyment are most tenuous during the middle ages of life, starting in our 20s with depression peaking at 46 — which the author described as “middle-age-misery.” The happiness of youth however, not only returned but was experienced at higher levels in subjects’ 70s. Researchers hypothesized that middle-age-misery was due to the overwhelming number of familial, professional, and financial demands during these years. Following a happiness dip in middle age, researchers concluded that we become more self-accepting, less ambitious and more mindful of living in the present moment (instead of the future) as we approach our 70s.

My interviewees’ responses contradicted the popular “U-bend” theory. Why? Perhaps happiness is more complex than we thought. Maybe our understanding of what makes us happy changes as we age. When we’re younger, perhaps we think of happiness as a feeling instead of a state of fulfillment, meaning, or abundance — which my interviewees were associating it with. Regardless, their responses came as a sobering reminder to fully appreciate and soak in these chaotic days of diaper changes, messiness, and minimal me-time. They may just end up being my happiest moments.


I was dying to ask if their spouses (of many decades, in most cases) were really the loves of their lives. As it turns out, this was true for some and not for others. In both cases, though, they kept trying to make their marriages work. I got the sense from their responses that after they had children, their marriages became much less important to their happiness than the overall nuclear family dynamic. This focus on the family unit, however, did not mean their sexual and romantic passion vanished. They still longed to be wooed and pursued. They still experienced intense attraction to people who were not their spouses and continue to experience intense attraction for others to this day. Of course, sex becomes more tiresome, as well as masturbation, but their desire for companionship is just as prominent as it was during the height of their youth.

Being old brought a lot of advantages: more time, more perspective, less hustling to be the best and most successful, and an urgency to strengthen the important relationships in her life.

My interviewees’ thoughts on beauty and aging were also varied — their physical appearance only mattered insofar as it mattered to them when they were younger. Those who were valued for their good looks or athleticism experienced much more grief in regards to their current bodies than those who derived confidence from qualities that were much less time-fixed. One interviewee, for example, was well-known in her community for being a writer and columnist in local newspapers. When I asked her if she was saddened by her aging appearance, she responded, “Well, I never thought I was pretty to begin with so, no.” The ones who did experience greater negative emotions about aging, though, shared that the peak of that grief occurred in their 70s and has diminished since then.

The same woman who told me she wasn’t bothered by her aging appearance also shared that she wasn’t afraid of death but of dying. I found this to be a profound distinction. She believed in an afterlife, as one might expect given that she belongs to a church. She felt sure that she would, in one way or another, be well taken care of after her time here came to an end. She is still very physically and mentally healthy, so it was that final leg of her journey that worried her. Would she be restricted to a hospital bed, just a mess of tubes and needles? Would she still recognize family and friends? Would she be in constant pain? Being old didn’t bother her until it affected the quality of her life in an incredibly detrimental way. In fact, being old, she shared, brought a lot of advantages: more time, more perspective, less hustling to be the best and most successful, and an urgency to strengthen the important relationships in her life.


The radical relationship-based orientation of all my subjects caught me by surprise. As someone entering the height of my career, I expend much more energy on work than on relationships. And when I imagine my future, I envision what I will have accomplished rather than the quality of my interactions with those who are most important to me. These 90-something-year-olds emphasize the opposite when they look back on their lives. Their joys and regrets have nothing to do with their careers, but with their parents, children, spouses, and friends. Put simply, when I asked one person, “Do you wish you accomplished more?” He responded, “No, I wished I loved more.”

My conversations challenged me. I certainly won’t be giving up my job to hang out with my family more because I also recognize that satisfying careers and financial stability are great sources of fulfillment — which, in turn, affect family well-being. But these different perspectives helped me focus on what really matters in the face of competing responsibilities and priorities. That sermon really does not have to be the best sermon in the world when my son is starving for my attention. My husband really does not need to get the highest-paying job he can find if that means I can spend more time with him.

Put simply, when I asked one person, “Do you wish you accomplished more?” He responded, “No, I wished I loved more.”

However, the biggest impact they left on me was not reprioritization but being okay with aging. I confess that prior to my conversations, I had an intense fear about growing old. This, I realize, was what motivated me to begin this research in the first place. I assumed the elderly lost their vibrancy and thirst for life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They still laugh like crazy, fall in love like mad and pursue happiness fiercely.

 

 

 

 

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Knowers & Learners Quick Thoughts On Different World Views – Bruno Bergher

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My work these days involves spending a lot of time with early stage companies, where we’re racing against the clock to turn bold new ideas into usable products, and see if they work.

It’s a land where you’re knee-deep in ambiguity, and surrounded by a sea of unanswered questions. It’s an environment where short-circuiting feedback loops pays off big time, and where fast action is highly valued.

But with so much to do and so little time, teams often get into hard scoping discussions. There’s no way to know for sure in advance what a product needs to offer in order to be validated. I’ve noticed two different types of people emerge from those discussions:

  • The ones who want to be right
  • And the ones who want to learn

The ones who want to be right defend their ideas based on their experience, their seniority, on their unmeasurable powers of divination of customer behavior. They come up with dozens of possible failure cases, just to justify their more complex solution. They get married to their ideas and never let go, irrespective of what’s learned.

They say “trust me, I know what I’m doing”, “no, that won’t work” and “let’s just do it my way this time”. They breed self-doubt and disempowerment.

Then there are the ones who want to learn. They’ve realized that when you’re first building something, chances are you’ll be wrong about at least a couple things — and try to identify them early on. They try to keep projects simple, so they can be tested fast, even if they have obvious holes. They maximize their opportunity for learning, by focusing on the problem at hand, and not on who came up with the solution or how it matches the initial big idea.

They can still have a bold vision, and they still listen to their gut, but they’re open to being wrong and eager to find out what will work for their audience.

They say “this is what worked for me before, would you be up for trying it?” and “which option would let us learn faster?”. They breed progress and are fun to hang around.

These days I just try to surround myself with people who are open to being wrong (even if they’re right most of the time), and above all interested in learning the truth, whatever it may be. I interview candidates looking for that heart-warming balance of experience and humility, and only invest in friendships with people who are willing to review previously held ideas. And I try to constantly revise what are facts and what are simply my own assumptions.

What about you? Would you rather be right, or would you rather learn the truth?

 

 

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