What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own.

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Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner. Although there may be individual differences in empathy based on genetic differences, research suggests it is possible to boost the capacity for empathic understanding.

In recent years neuroscientists have advanced the concept of “mirror neurons,” which are believed to enhance the capacity to display, read and mimic emotional signals through facial expressions and other forms of body language. Mirror neurons may help individuals share emotional experiences and become more empathic toward others. The significance of mirror neurons remains in contention, however.