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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Why Empathy Is One of the Most Overlooked Skills in Business

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It was a sunny day in April. The air was crisp and the walk ahead of us enjoyable.I stared at the beautiful Embarcadero situated near our office, feeling grateful for working close to such a stunning view.

Then I shifted my gaze over to Tim, my walking mate for the afternoon. We were on one of many walking meetings we’d shared over the past year. But this time was different. Tim, a normally talkative employee, was dragging his heels and appeared disgruntled whenever I asked for status updates. He kept his head down, answering only in curt replies.Something was off.

As his supervisor, I could have easily approached his behavior with a stern stance, by grilling him, or asserting my authority. But 14-plus years of have taught me one thing: A harsh, adversarial response is never the answer.Instead, I slowed my pace and asked him how things were going at home. “Is everything OK?”

Tim confided then that his father had recently had a , and that he was taking turns spending nights at the hospital, leaving him tense and run-down. I nodded. “I’m so sorry, that sounds very hard.”“How can I support you?” I offered.

We spent some time talking over how to alleviate some of his load at work, and even scheduled some days off for him to be with his family.After our conversation, it was as if a weight had been lifted. In our meeting afterward, he began eagerly participating, even offering feedback I hadn’t asked for.

Showing genuine care and concern only took a few seconds of my time, but it was enough to let Tim know that I was on his side.

One of the most overlooked skills in business

Empathy — the capacity to recognize and understand other people’s feelings, to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” is a critical leadership skill. tells us that it’s a basic human quality most founders would have in their arsenal, but in fact, it’s one that many leaders often get wrong.

In a commencement speech on June 15, 2014, American business magnate and philanthropist, , stood before an audience of Stanford grads and spoke of channeling optimism into a conviction to make things better.

“If we have optimism, but we don’t have empathy,” he said, “then it doesn’t matter how much we master the secrets of science. We’re not really solving problems; we’re just working on puzzles.”

This has been true to my experience as the CEO of my company . We started with one goal: Create a drag-and-drop tool that enabled people to quickly build forms, even if they didn’t know how to code. As a software engineer, I’ll be the first one to say I’m the biggest nerd I know. I enjoy taking a complex issue and making it easy and accessible.

I’ve had the privilege of growing our small startup to a business with over 250 employees and seven million users worldwide. And what I’ve learned from being a founder all these years is that people, not software, matter most. Connecting with our team and our customers is the real vision that keeps us moving forward. I believe the secret to our success lies in empathy.

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Beyond sympathy

Our culture admires a certain business stereotype: the die-hard leaders who push the envelope and only care about themselves. But at what price? A shortage of empathy in the workplace accounts for an increasing lack of employee engagement, which impacts productivity. This costs businesses more than $600 billion per year.

How does this happen? Simple: by confusing empathy with sympathy. Sympathizing — feeling sorry for an employee’s situation isn’t the same as understanding their feelings and needs, or building rapport.

Instead of becoming annoyed with their employees or commanding them to pick up the slack, effective leaders know how to express themselves by showing real concern and asking how they can improve the situation.

While valuable, sympathy is only a surface-level response that keeps you at a distance. Empathy, on the other hand, is a perspective shift — it’s genuinely imagining yourself being in the other person’s shoes, and allows you to connect on a deeper level.

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Source: https://www.entrepreneur.com

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You’ll be much more successful with your sales and marketing efforts if you’re genuine. And how do you become more genuine? ✨👉 Empathize. Check out Bob here: https://www.instagram.com/bobbonniol/ https://bonniol.com
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