November 11, 2003

Study says brain hard-wired for empathy

This may explain why video highlights of usability testing are more convincing than a report...

"Ever watched someone grimace after they sniffed a carton of sour milk? Even though you were spared a whiff of stinky milk, to your brain, you might as well have been sniffing the milk yourself, a report from Italy suggests. New research shows that when we see an expression of disgust on someone else's face, the same part of our brain -- the insula -- is activated as when we feel disgust ourselves.

'People have overemphasized the importance of thoughts in our understanding of others,' Dr. Christian Keysers of the University of Parma, a co-author of the report, told Reuters Health. Although Keysers said that empathy for others is often thought of as a matter of morals, 'in our study, on the other hand, we show that empathy is a very basic, simple and automatic process,' he said. Keysers explained that when we see the emotions on another's face, 'we don't need to think about how that person feels.' Instead, according to Keysers, we share the feeling of disgust because the insula is activated as if we were disgusted ourselves.

'This sharing is automatic,' he said. 'Our subjects were not asked to share the emotion of the other person and did not report attempting to do so after the scan. It just happens.' Keysers continued, 'This shared feeling of disgust could then be our key to understanding how the other person feels.'"

From Reuters Health Information: Brain hard-wired for empathy: study

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