Does psychology recognize empaths? (A Complete Guide)

In this article, we will discuss Does psychology recognizes empaths?. We will do that by describing empathy and its types. We will further explain empathy in detail including development, individual differences, and the effect of empathy on helping behavior. Next, we will explain empathy in various psychological disorders and the role of empathy for psychologists.

Does psychology recognize empaths? 

Yes, empaths are recognized by psychology and so is empathy in general. A recent study by Abigal Marsh has revealed that the brains of ‘altruists’ (which are closely linked to the concept of empaths) are different from the brains of others. She studied people who were selfless and altruistic and found that these people had higher brain activity in their amygdala. Apart from this, empathy has been backed by scientific evidence as a trait that is innate and develops over time. Even psychologists need to be empathic in order to work successfully in their field since empathy has been associated with effective therapeutic outcomes. 

Empathy

Empathy refers to the ability to understand and experience what another person is feeling. It means the capacity to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. Ther term empathy comes from the Greek word ’empatheia’ meaning ‘ physical affection or passion’. It was first used by a British author ‘Vernon Lee’ and he explained it as sympathy with feeling. 

Empathy includes caring, helping, experiencing emotions, understanding the thoughts of others, etc. It is the basic capacity of being able to recognize the emotions of others. It is predominantly innate but it can involve training as well. It can also be understood as a quality. 

Types of Empathy

There are two components of empathy. These include:

Affective empathy: It is also called emotional empathy and refers to the capacity to understand another person’s emotions, feeling their emotions, and responding according to their emotions. It can further include empathic concern and personal distress. Empathic concern is compassion for others during their pain and suffering. Whereas, personal distress takes place in response to being exposed to the pain and suffering of others. 

Cognitive empathy: It refers to the ability to understand another person’s perspective at an intellectual level. It can include perspective-taking, strategic empathy, and fantasy. 

Somatic empathy is a physical reaction in response to someone’s pain. It could be a form of a mirror response by the somatic nervous system of our body. 

All these types of empathy are independent of each other. A person who is good at cognitive empathy may not be necessarily good at emotional or affective empathy. 

Development of empathy

Empathy has been found to exist in animals as well e.g. dolphins, bonobos, rodents, etc. Whereas in human beings, empathy begins by age 2 as children learn to respond to another person’s emotional state. Some toddlers even try to calm others and show their concern for them. However, their emotional response and empathy is less developed and matures till age 4.

fMRI conducted on children between 7-12 years showed a natural inclination to feel empathy for others which was parallel to an adult’s empathic response to pain. 

Individual differences in empathy

recent researches have shown that empathy is backed by mirroring of motor neurons. It involves multiple constructs. Behavioral and neuroimaging studies have shown that the personality dimensions of extraversion and agreeableness constitutive an altruistic personality. These two have been related to the accuracy of empathy shown by a person. It also included increased brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction in the brain which has been associated with empathic processing. 

Studies suggest that females are more empathic than males especially when it comes to cognitive empathy on self-report measures. However, neuroimaging studies have revealed no reliable sex differences. Females have higher scores of empathy quotient and males have higher scores on systemizing quotient. Furthermore, studies show that women are good at recognizing facial expressions related to emotions and men are better at identifying behavior is related to threat, aggression, and hostility. People with autism have lower scores of empathy quotient and higher scores on systemizing quotient. 

Development of empathy

If we look at empathy development across the lifespan, studies have shown that children’s empathy grows with age. The role of environment all factors including parenting style and relationships are associated with the development of empathy in children. Empathy especially helps in pro-social behavior and reconciling aggression.

Caroline Tisot found that a few parenting practices contribute to the development of empathy rather than parenting style. This includes encouraging children to imagine the perspective of other people and reflecting on their own feelings. Here, parental warmth plays an important role. Early age trauma including brain damage, stroke etc especially damage to the frontal lobe can influence a person’s capacity to experience empathy. Up to 50% of people with brain injuries also suffered from reduced empathy.

Effect of empathy on helping behavior

empathy has been found to be strongly associated with helping behavior. It plays an important role in making group decisions, socialization, expressing gratitude, and the likelihood of assisting others. Studies on the social responses of people during natural disasters have shown that people are able to help others based on cognitive empathy and empathize with them without much discomfort. This is because emotional empathy can cause emotional distress and feelings of helplessness in them. So, people may avoid doing that in order to protect themselves.

Empathy and psychological disorders

Empathy has a strong genetic and neurobiological basis. Along with that empathic deficits have been found in various disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, people with an autism spectrum disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Such people have difficulty functioning in society due to their lack of ability to understand the emotions of others. They may have the capacity to use cognitive empathy but emotional empathy may be lacking in them. Some of these people May actually have to go through empathy training to be able to take the perspective of others, identify their emotions, and respond accordingly. They would accordingly need feedback on how they have performed. Doing so may help in the development of empathy as a skill in them 

Empathy in a psychologist

Being able to empathize with others is the pre-requisite of being a good psychologist. Empathy in psychotherapeutic sessions has been related to productive outcomes in the patient’s treatment. Furthermore, basic tasks that are done by a  psychologist which include active listening, paraphrasing, clarifying, summarising, identification of emotions, giving interpretations, observing body language, etc. all fall into empathic behavior. Similarly, mirroring the patient’s body language, tone, and expressions done by a  psychologist. to express their concern for them is also part of expressing empathy. 

FAQs: Does psychology recognize empaths?

Do empaths recognize each other?

Yes, It is highly possible that empaths recognize each other due to their ability to feel sensitivity and genuineness of emotions of other people.

Are empaths scientifically proven?

Yes. Empaths are scientifically proven as a lot of evidence backs up the development of empathy across lifespan and differences in brain activity of people with empathy and without empathy. 

Can empathy be taught? 

Yes, empathy can be taught effectively to other people. However, teaching someone to be empathetic does not happen overnight,  it is a long and gradual process.  This is because helping a person to understand other people’s emotions can take a lot of investment with respect to time and emotions.  Results can be promising if one stays consistent. 

Do empaths make good therapists? 

Yes, empaths can make good therapists. Although empathy is necessary for a good Therapist, it is not sufficient. They need to have many other qualities as well in order to be effective as a Therapist. Having empathy gives them an advantage as they can detect feelings of others, explain them, and also have self-awareness of their own emotional experience as well during the process. 

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Does psychology recognizes empaths?. We found that empaths are recognized by psychology and so is empathy in general. A recent study by Abigal Marsh has revealed that the brains of people altruists (which are closely linked to the concept of empaths) is different from the brains of others. She studied people who were selfless and altruistic and found that these people had higher brain activity in their amygdala. Apart from this, empathy has been backed by scientific evidence as a trait that is innate and develops over time. Even psychologists need to be empathic in order to work successfully in their field since empathy has been associated with effective therapeutic outcomes. 

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy

https://psychcentral.com/blog/new-research-may-support-the-existence-of-empaths/

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