We’re Hardwired for Empathy

Modeling is central to character education. That’s because we’re born imitators. Babies just a few minutes old will stick out their tongues at adults doing the same thing. We often mimic behavior without even realizing it. How does it happen?

“In a finding with enormous implications across many fields, scientists have discovered that we all have brain cells called mirror neurons. Here’s how the remarkable process works: Certain brain cells fire when we perform goal-related movements like grasping, holding and tearing. The mirror neurons lie next-door and fire when we see other people doing these things, forging a kind of muscle memory. Even more amazing, mirror neurons also code the intention of the person viewed.

“When you see me perform an action — such as picking up a baseball — you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,” Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA, told the New York Times. “And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.”

Since mirror neurons are somewhat out of our control, we can pick up good or bad habits by association with good or bad people, and Dr. Iacoboni worries that kids are growing more violent from seeing endless brutalities in movies and TV shows.

As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Whether you like it or not, you’re a role model.

4 thoughts on “We’re Hardwired for Empathy”

  1. Jean-Yves — and Carlene — I must ask — why are you offended by the monkey? Animals are masterful teachers who touch the hearts of children in a way that is unique and inspiring. We humans tend to think of ourselves as the gold standard and this is the sense i got from your comment. I sensed that you felt that the baby should be human and because he or she is a monkey, perhaps you felt that they were “less important” as a result. However, we all have our intrinsic uniqueness — our own perfection. Just as monkeys cannot do many things that we do — does that make them less intelligent? No. Their own unique and inherent intelligence is specific to them. For example — can you swing from a tree the way a monkey can? Sleep on a branch, perfectly balanced? Likely not. Does that make YOU any less intelligent? Of course not. Only when the day comes when an intelligence greater than our own shows up will we realize what we have, for millenia, done to the animals upon whom we look down our nose. And this, my friends, is speciesism at its very worst. Let us celebrate the joyful and unique differences among the different species with whom we share our beautiful planet, rather than find trivial ways to view them as lesser beings. To judge them in that manner speaks volumes more about US than it does about them.

    1. Who said anything about being offended? I thought it would be common sense when you write an article “We’re..”, you are talking about we humans and would naturally show a baby human being. Human beings are far superior to any animals, which is how they were created.

Comments are closed.