SEARCH

Entries in Empathy (2)

Friday
Apr152011

Vicarious Embarrassment a Pain in the Brain

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Ever wonder why some people can't stand the over-the-top awkwardness of characters on The Office while others love it? It may have to do with the ability to feel empathy, according to new research from the Philipps-University Marburg in Germany.

Researchers analyzed how people experience vicarious embarrassment -- that cringe we feel when the host of a party makes a toast with a piece of spinach in his teeth -- and found that it was closely tied to feelings of empathy and empathy centers in the brain.

A group of 619 German 20-somethings were shown a series of vignettes depicting a stranger getting into embarrassing situations, and then asked to rate how much embarrassment they felt for him. Sometimes the stranger was oblivious to their faux-pas, like the spinach-in-the-teeth example. Sometimes they were painfully aware -- one showed a person bending over and splitting his pants.

Though empathy is usually thought of as pain we experience with someone -- they suffer and we suffer with them -- researchers found that the subjects felt vicarious embarrassment even when the strangers in question were blissfully unaware of their pratfalls.

"We are wired for empathy," says Dr. Marco Iacoboni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. "Human instinct is to be empathic. We can't help it."

For centuries, he says, scientists thought of empathy upside-down: that we were animals fighting for survival and it was only our higher brain functions that allowed us to feel cooperative emotions such as empathy. Neuroscientists are now finding that our brains are wired on a very basic level to feel empathy for others, though obviously the capacity for empathy varies from person to person.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan242011

Is Doctor Empathy the Best Rx?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The ability to empathize with a patient not only makes doctors more likable but improves the quality of care they provide, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. And as with knowing what test to run or what treatment to prescribe, empathy is a skill doctors have to learn, some doctors say.

"Currently, there is insufficient emphasis and time apportioned to teaching the empathic response in medical school, postgraduate training and continuing medical education," wrote Dr. Robert Buckman of the University of Toronto and his colleagues.

Medical training has historically emphasized understanding diseases rather than patients. But some medical schools in the United States are changing their game to produce more empathetic doctors.

"I think all of us as doctors should understand that our main role is to not just help people, but to really understand them and to have every encounter with a patient be something they leave feeling better," said Dr. Steven Abramson, senior vice president and vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"In the sufferer, let me see only the human being," said Abramson, quoting the prayer of Maimonides, a pledge similar to the Hippocratic oath.

"A patient is far less likely to adhere to a treatment plan if they don't have trust in their doctor," said Matthew Mercuri, a first-year medical student at Langone. "If they don't trust their doctor, they won't trust the treatment."

But learning to balance empathy with doing what needs to be done is harder than it looks.

NYU's Abramson said, "It's very nice to have a doctor that you love and who puts an arm around you, but not if that doctor makes bad medical decisions.

"Compassion is important but compassion without competence is not a virtue."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio