“Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They might have different tastes.” – George Bernard Shaw
Feeling what others feel, imagining how they view situations, and wanting to do something with that knowledge
Have you ever seen someone else get hurt and noticed you were grimacing? That is empathy. Scientists can see on brain scans that the same parts of our brains are active whether we are experiencing something ourselves, or just watching someone else go through it. If we see a person cry while telling a painful story, we may feel sadness welling up in us too. That is one part of empathy (affective empathy). Another part of empathy (cognitive empathy) is understanding why people feel the way they do. Babies come into the world with the wiring to be empathic, and toddlers and preschoolers eagerly help others. As our brains develop with age, we become even more capable of understanding, and feeling for, perspectives different from our own.
- Teens’ brains are changing in ways that make them more emotional and more sensitive to their social world.
- Teens’ brains are still developing in areas related to perspective-taking and use more resources to do this than adults’ brains do.
- Since teens’ brains are highly plastic (malleable), providing opportunities to practice empathy during the teen years can help them build strong empathic connections for life.
- Some teens become too distressed or consumed by others’ feelings and need to learn self-awareness and self-care instead of greater empathy.
- In their teen years, males but not females tend to experience a dip in effective empathy (feeling what others feel). So males may especially benefit from empathy interventions at this time.
- Have better social problem-solving and perspective-taking skills.
- Have better relationships with friends and romantic partners.
- Have higher social competence and are more helpful to others.
- Are less aggressive, less likely to bully, and more likely to defend bullied peers.
Note: iThrive produced the following list with input from expert game developers. These games have not been scientifically proven to boost empathy, but they contain themes or actions that appear to provide opportunities to develop it.
- That Dragon Cancer
- Papers, Please
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
- Never Alone
- This War of Mine
- 1979: Revolution