Posts Tagged ‘emotional empathy’

The Dark Side

March 9, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman begins, “Psychologists use the phrase the dark triad to refer to narcissists, Machiavellians and sociopaths.” As for examples, look no further than President Trump. He has hit the trifecta here. Goleman continues, “These types represent the dark side of emotional intelligence: such people can be very good at cognitive empathy, but lack emotional empathy—not to mention empathic concern. For instance, by definition the sociopath does not care at all about human consequences of their manipulation, and has no regrets about inflicting cruelty. Their feelings of any kind are very shallow; brain imaging reveals a thinning of the areas that connect the emotional centers to the prefrontal cortex.”

Goleman outlines deficits in emotional intelligence. Sociopaths have deficits in several areas key to emotional intelligence: the anterior cingulate, the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, and insula, and in the connectivity of these regions to other parts of the brain. It is possible that deficits such as these can account for much of Trump’s behavior.

Gender Differences

March 8, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” On average, women have better emotional intelligence than men. However, this is on average. Think of two bell curves. The curves for men and women would overlap but they would be displaced and the averages would differ. There are many men with higher emotional intelligence than women, but there are more women with higher emotional intelligence than men.

The neuroscientist Tania Singer has brain data that relates to these trends. She was looking at two emotional systems, one for cognitive empathy and another for emotional empathy. Singer has found that women tend to be more highly developed in the mirror neuron system, and so rely on it more than men do for signals of empathy. In contrast, men tend to have a burst of the mirror neuron system and then go into a problem-solving mode.

Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University provides another way of looking at male-female differences in EI. She says that there’s an extreme female brain which has lots of mirror neuron activity and is high in emotional empathy. In contrast, the extreme male brain excels in systems thinking and is poor at emotional empathy. These brain types are at the far extremes of a bell curve, with most of us somewhere in the middle. However, he does not mean that all men have the male brain, nor all women the female brain. Many women are adept at systems thinking, and many men excel at emotional empathy.

Ruth Mallow of the Hay Group in Boston has looked at gender differences on the “Emotional and Social Competence Inventory.” Her analysis found that while, in general, you find gender differences among the various competencies, when you only look at the pool of star performers (people in the top ten percent of business performance) those differences wash out. Across the board, the men are as good as the women are as good as the men.

Franz de Waal, the famed researcher on primate behavior at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta has made many interesting observations. Among them is the following: When a chimp sees another chimp in distress—either from an injury or a loss of social status—the first chimp mimics the behavior of the distressed chimp, which is a primal form of empathy. Many chimps will then go over and give some solace to the upset chimp such as stroking it to help it calm down. Female chimps offer this kind of solace more often than male chimps do—with one interesting exception. The alpha males, who are the troupe leaders, give solace more often than do female chimps. It seems that one of the basic functions of a leader is to offer appropriate emotional support.

The Varieties of Empathy

March 7, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman notes that there are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy. I know how you see things. I can take your perspective. Managers high in this kind of empathy are able to get better than expected performance from employees because they put things in terms that people can understand. Executives higher in cognitive empathy do better in foreign postings, because they pick up the unspoken norms of different cultures more quickly.

Emotional empathy is a second kind of empathy: I feel with you. This is the basis for rapport and chemistry. People who excel in emotional empathy make good counselors, teachers, client managers, and group leaders because of the ability to sense in the moment how others are reacting.

Empathic concern is the third kind of empathy: I sense you need some help and I spontaneously am ready to give it. Those with empathic concern are good citizens in a group, organization, or community, who voluntarily help out as needed.

Empathy is the essential building block for compassion. We have to sense what another person is going through, what they’re feeling, in order to spark compassion in us. A spectrum runs from total self-absorption (where we don’t notice other people) to noticing them and beginning to tune in, to empathizing, to understanding their needs and having empathic concern. Next comes compassionate action, where we help them out.

Distinct brain circuitry seems be involved in different varieties of empathy. Tania Singer, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany studies emotional empathy. Singer sees the role of the insula as key to empathy (this is one of the neural areas that is crucial to emotional intelligence) The insula senses signals from our whole body. When we’re empathizing with someone, our mirror neurons mimic within us that person’s state of mind. The anterior area of the insula reads that pattern and tells us what that state is.

Singer has found that reading emotions in others means, at the brain level, first reading those emotions in ourselves; the insula lights up when we tune into our own sensations. She’s done fMRI studies of couples where one partner is getting a brain scan while seeing that theater partner is about to get a shock. At the moment the partner sees this the part of his or her brain lights up that would do so if he or sh were actually getting the shock, rather then just seeing the partner get it.

The recommended route to developing greater empathy abilities, involves getting feedback on what the other person actually is thinking—to verify or correct our hunches. Another means for boosting empathy has people watch a video or film without the sound and guess the emotions being depicted onscreen, checking their guesses against the actuality. Giving the neural circuits for empathy feedback on how the other person actually feels or thinks helps this circuitry learn.