Psychologists define empathy in myriad ways, and some see compassion as a component of empathy rather than separate from it. ‘You can find almost as many definitions of empathy as you can find people writing about empathy,’ says Cikara.
Empathy is often described as a combination of three factors: cognitive empathy (thinking about another’s emotions), emotional empathy (sharing another’s emotions), and motivational empathy (caring about another’s emotions – or compassion). ‘Empathy is not just one thing, but rather it’s an umbrella term that describes the different ways that people respond to each other’s emotions,’ Zaki explains.
Each of these, though closely connected, are actually independent psychological and neurological processes. In recent years, as researchers have started to probe the brain to better understand how empathy works at the neural level, studies are beginning to show how these three components can be teased apart in the brain.
At the very basic level, neuroscientists have found that empathy stimulates shared representations in the brain – participants activate the same neural areas in response to feeling pain and observing others in pain. Social neuroscientists like Claus Lamm at the University of Vienna have been using a variety of neuroimaging techniques such as functional MRI to study the underlying brain mechanisms of empathy. The classical approach for studying this, according to Lamm, is the pain paradigm, where researchers place participants in an MRI scanner and record their neural activity as they receive painful shocks or observe others getting a painful shock.
在最基本的层面上，神经科学家发现共情在大脑中刺激了共享的表征——参与者在感觉疼痛和观察他人痛苦时激活了同一个神经区域。社会科学家Claus Lamm在维也纳大学已采用多种影像学技术如功能磁共振成像研究 了大脑共情的潜在机制。根据Lamm的说法，该研究的经典方法是疼痛范例，研究人员将参与者放置在MRI扫描仪中，记录他们在受到痛苦的冲击或观察其他人痛苦的冲击的神经活动。