Adagio & Empathy

Can We Learn to be More Empathetic?

Empathy is typically considered an attribute of the right brain hemisphere.  Since the research cited strongly suggests an association between the activities of the experimental group and right hemisphere activation, this begs the question, “Can we learn to be more empathetic?”

Few would disagree that the human race could stand a huge boost in its ability to empathize. Renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist states that “the right hemisphere yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings in the context of the lived world”, and characterizes the left hemisphere as lifeless, static, fixed and isolated. With more empathy, we could well see a reduction in wars, a reduction in civil rights violations, more awareness of our earth’s environment, more humanitarian aid to those in need, and less economic inequality.

Recent research conducted at Emory University and subsequently published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience[1], showed that a meditation program called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training was able to improve people’s ability to read emotional expressions on others’ faces.

So, perhaps empathy can in fact be “activated”?

The idea of “activating” empathy through right brain stimulation was beyond the scope of the study I have been referencing. But perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that by “exercising” the right brain, as we did with the RHA group, attributes of the right brain hemisphere can in fact be enhanced and/or strengthened.

[1] Jennifer S. Mascaro, James K. Rilling, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Charles L. Raison (2013) “Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity”, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 8, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 48–55