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Diana Kwon 2017-5-09
陈明 译
Finding empathy in the brain

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。

In recent studies, Lamm and his colleagues have discovered that these activations can be artificially manipulated. One functional MRI study revealed that giving participants placebo painkillers decreased activation in brain areas associated with pain and empathy for pain. Further, they found that opioid-blockers could block the placebo’s reduction for both one’s own pain responses as well as the empathic response for another’s suffering.


Studies have also shown that cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassion all activate unique networks in the brain, and that this activation predicts different behavioral outcomes. ‘What the neuroscientific investigation do is that they basically confirm what the social psychologists have suggested for quite some time already,’ Lamm told me.


A force for good and evil

Perhaps the best way to think about empathy is as an entity separate from morality. Batson himself suggested this in a 2009 article where he wrote: ‘Empathy-induced altruism is, we suggest, best thought of as neither moral nor immoral, but amoral.’

也许思考共情的最好方法是将其作为与道德分开的实体。Batson在他自己2009的文章中写道“,我们建议,移情 催生的利他主义,最好被认为即不是道德的也不是不道德的,而是不属于道德范畴的。”

Empathy is a powerful force, capable of doing good and harm. Some psychologists believe that humanity would best thrive if we avoided it all together and relied instead on rational, reasoned thought. Other see a more delicate balance – that both are necessary to make the world a better place. ‘What Paul’s saying is that if you’re going to get fairness or justice in the society, empathy-induced altruism is not necessarily the best way,’ says Batson. ‘My own bias is that reasoned moral thought alone isn’t the best way either. The kind of change Paul’s talking about takes the two working together.’

共情是一种强大的力量,能够做好事并带来伤害。一些心理学家认为,如果我们 一起避而不顾(共情),进而依靠理性,理性的思考,人类就会茁壮成长。其他人看到一种更微妙的平衡——两者都是使世界变得更美好的必要条件。“保罗所说的,如果你要在社会上得到公平或正义的话,共情导致的利他主义的未必是最好的方式,”Batson说,“我自己的偏见是,理性的道德思想并不是最好的方法。保罗所说的那种改变需要两者的共同努力。

Overall, it is important to know when to empathise and to assess the motives of people who try to stir our emotions with a critical light. Learning to numb our reactions to stories some politicians tell may ultimately help make our world a better place.



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