Arlene is on the SCENE

Archive for the ‘Social Emotional’ Category

Aha! They found it! They found out where empathy comes from.

Drumroll…the anterior insular cortex.

Aren’t you glad you know?

Scientists have identified an area of the brain that seems to be responsible for empathy. Now, the study sample was pretty small, and they seemed to focus on the understanding of others’ pain specifically, but this is interesting research. The researchers found that three patients who had lesions to the anterior insular cortex had more difficulty “evaluating the emotional state of pain” in other people, when shown pictures of people who were in pain. This is compared to other patients who had lesions in other areas of the brain, as well as people who had no brain damage.

What do we do with this knowledge? Well, good question. They say that this may help to develop cognitive and behavioral therapies for social challenges such as a lack of empathy. As a therapist, I’m not sure how knowing what area of the brain is affected would inform my therapeutic approach. It’s not like I choose cognitive behavioral therapy over traditional play therapy based on what area of the brain is affected in my client. They also say that this knowledge could help to better understand the organic basis for social emotional challenges and thus inform pharmacological treatments. Now that I can see, although I have some hesitation about that approach, especially with children.

All very interesting, although having just talked about empathy with my good friends at Fallsmead Elementary School in Maryland yesterday, I think we can accomplish quite a lot by simply modeling and practicing empathy. One student asked me, “Why do we need to practice it?” I had to think about that one. I responded that if we’re really being honest with ourselves, often we operate as if it’s “all about me.” Admit it, we do! So we’ve got to strive to reach that higher goal of being empathetic to our peers. If each one of us strives for that, the world is a safer place for all of us to be ourselves and emerge with a positive self-image.

Check out our free school presentations about empathy, embracing differences and the value of diversity. And start practicing!


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