on empathy
Inspiration, Science

On Empathy

Because holidays are here, why not re-think empathy?

It roots from German philosopher Robert Vischer’s idea that beauty results from human sensitivity onto natural things.  Then, Theodor Lipps (being also a 19th century German philosopher) attributed it to psychology as a mental state that allows an individual feel or understand what other fellow feels. For instance, in a recent report (published by Science on this December 9) done by researchers Inbal Ben, Ami Bartal, Jean Decety and Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago, pro-social behaviour once thought to be unique among our ape cousins was found in rats, too.

Two lab rats were put in a cage together, but one was trapped in a restrainer that could be only opened “by applying enough force to tip over the restrainer door“, as the report explains. The one that was free took his time to figure out the situation by circling, bitting and digging at the restrainer while the other one grew more anxious and stressed.

Two days later, when the rat finally opened the door, he got inside of the restrainer and began dragging his partner by the tail to get her out. Once freed, they both celebrated by chasing and caressing each other. The process was repeated a few times with similar results: the rat would continue ‘rescuing’ his partner, but this time faster and less exciting.

However, when scientists changed the rat inside the restrainer for a fake one (as well as placing the restrainer empty) the rat outside showed no interest.

Their verdict (which you can hear in this video) is that “acting on empathic feelings to help someone in need is a biological and, in fact, a neurobiological mandate.” Meaning that empathy is a natural instinct we share as mammals. (The idea of this research probably manifested after comparing the comradeship observed in rats with that of modern homo-sapiens.)

Re-think empathy and don’t regret feeling emotional when seeing someone else’s misery –embrace it and channel the energy to figure out how you can help. Anger or ‘the blues’ won’t take you anywhere productive. Ask Apathy if you don’t agree.

Happy holidays!


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