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Friday, January 23, 2015

Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa: Brain physiology limits simultaneous use of both networks

Case Western Reserve
Press Release via Science Daily
Originally posted October 30, 2012


When the brain's analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed, researchers have found. The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time.

Here is an excerpt:

The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised. More, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

"This is the cognitive structure we've evolved," said Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve and lead author of the new study. "Empathetic and analytic thinking are, at least to some extent, mutually exclusive in the brain."

The Science Direct repost of the press release is here.

Editor's note: This research highlights how psychologists need to balance empathy with analytic reason during psychotherapy.  Self-reflection may aid with assessing your skills in both empathy and analysis, and your ability to switch cognitive sets when needed.

For those interested in the problems with empathy, search "Paul Bloom" on this site for articles highlighting the issue.