Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How we understand others

28.04.2016

People who empathise easily with others do not necessarily understand them well. To the contrary: Excessive empathy can even impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Leipzig has established.

Imagine your best friend tells you that his girlfriend has just proposed "staying friends". Now you have to accomplish two things: Firstly, you have to grasp that this nice sounding proposition actually means that she wants to break up with him and secondly, you should feel with your friend and comfort him.


Anne Böckler, Junior Professor at the University of Würzburg.

Foto: Daniel Peter

Whether empathy and understanding other people's mental states (mentalising) – i.e. the ability to understand what others know, plan and want – are interrelated has recently been examined by the psychologists Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske, Mathis Trautwein, Franca Parianen-Lesemann and Tania Singer.

The publication

Anne Böckler has been a junior professor at the University of Würzburg's Institute of Psychology since October 2015. Previously, the post-doc had worked in the Department of Social Neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig where she conducted the study together with her co-workers. In the scientific journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the scientists present the results of their work.

"Successful social interaction is based on our ability to feel with others and to understand their thoughts and intentions," Anne Böckler explains. She says that it had been unclear previously whether and to what extend these two skills were interrelated – that is whether people who empathise easily with others are also capable of grasping their thoughts and intentions. According to the junior professor, the scientists also looked into the question of whether the neuronal networks responsible for these abilities interact.

The results

Answers can be gleaned from the study conducted by Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske and their colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig within the scope of a large-scale study led by Tania Singer which included some 200 participants. The study enabled the scientists to prove that people who tend to be empathic do not necessarily understand other people well at a cognitive level. Hence, social skills seem to be based on multiple abilities that are rather independent of one another.

The study also delivered new insight as to how the different networks in the brain are orchestrated, revealing that networks crucial for empathy and cognitive perspective-taking interact with one another. In highly emotional moments – for example when somebody talks about the death of a close person – activation of the insula, which forms part of the empathy-relevant network, can have an inhibiting effect in some people on brain areas important for taking someone else's perspective. And this in turn can cause excessive empathy to impair social understanding.

The study

The participants to the study watched a number of video sequences in which the narrator was more or less emotional. Afterwards, they had to rate how they felt and how much compassion they felt for the person in the film. Then they had to answer questions about the video – for example what the persons could have thought, known or intended. Having thus identified persons with a high level of empathy, the psychologists looked at their portion among the test participants who had had good or poor results in the test about cognitive perspective-taking – and vice versa.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists observed which areas of the brain where active at what time.

The significance

The authors believe that the results of this study are important both for neuroscience and clinical applications. For example, they suggest that training aimed at improving social skills, the willingness to empathise and the ability to understand others at the cognitive level and take their perspective should be promoted selectively and separately of one another. The group in the Department of Social Neurosciences in Leipzig is currently working on exactly this topic within the scope of the ReSource project, namely how to specifically train different social skills.

Are strong empathizers better mentalizers? Evidence for independence and interaction between the routes of social cognition. Philipp Kanske, Anne Böckler, Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, Franca H. Parianen Lesemann, Tania Singer. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Anne Böckler, Junior Professor of Psychology,
Phone: +49 931 31-80506, e-mail: anne.boeckler@uni-wuerzburg.de or
phone: +49 341 99402688, e-mail: aboeckler@cbs.mpg.de

Gunnar Bartsch | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Further information:
http://www.uni-wuerzburg.de

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Illinois researchers researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected
21.02.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

nachricht Polluted air may pollute our morality
08.02.2018 | Association for Psychological Science

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>