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By Steven G. Mehta

In Los Angeles, the courts have been using the “one day, one trial” system for quite a while.  As part of that system, the pool of jurors has increased dramatically.  Before that system was enacted many professionals such as architects, lawyers, accountants, and doctors avoided jury service because of some claim of exigent circumstances.  No more with the one day one trial system.

However, with such greater diversity comes different issues when people from a higher socio-economic class become members of a jury.  One recent study found that although higher socio-economic class people have many economic and educational opportunities, they may be worse at reading the emotions of others.

The new study published in Psychological Science finds that lower socio-economic class people are better at reading the emotions of others.

The researchers theorized that for lower socio-economic class people, they must rely more on other individuals because they cannot afford to buy the service or good, and therefore, they must develop people assessment skills for survival.  For example, if you can’t afford to buy daycare service for your children, you have to rely on your neighbors or relatives to watch the kids while you attend classes or run errands, says Michael W. Kraus of the University of California-San Francisco.

Over the course of several studies involving computer images and job interviews, the research consistently revealed that people with more education performed worse on the task of determining people’s emotions and mental state than people with less education.

These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others — they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.

Interestingly, the researchers conducted a final experiment where subjects were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were.  In that circumstance, the people got better at reading emotions. “It’s the cultural context leading to these differences,” says Kraus.   He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. “It’s not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It’s all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated.”

This research is interesting for several reasons.  First, attorneys are among the highest educated attaining at least 7 years of college and graduate education.  Often attorneys are making judgments about the credibility of witnesses and parties.  It is helpful to recognize that as attorneys – because of their socio-economic class, that they may not be as good as they think they are in judging the mental state of others.

Second, it is interesting to note that many people believe that the higher socio-economic factors lead to more conservative jurors.  It could be possible that those jurors are more conservative in their decisions because they are not as effective as reading the emotions of the parties and witnesses and therefore err on the side of being conservative in their decisions.

Finally, all is not lost.  According to the research, the ability to read people can be learned. There is much literature on how to read people, how to read non-verbal gestures, and other such items.

Research Source:

M. W. Kraus, S. Cote, D. Keltner. Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic AccuracyPsychological Science, 2010; 21 (11): 1716 DOI:10.1177/0956797610387613

By Steven G. Mehta

One of the most common things that people say when trying to understand how an action might affect another person is to say, “put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” Recent research, however, demonstrates that putting yourself in another’s shoes may not be the best way to understand how that person views your actions.

According to psychologist, Jeremy Dean, we normally try to work out how we are viewed by others by thinking about how we view ourselves, then extrapolating from that. The problem with this approach, says Dean, is that to varying degrees we all suffer from an ‘egocentric bias:’ we think we’re at the center of the world and everything is about us. We shouldn’t be blamed for this — it’s a natural consequence of the fact that we’re locked inside our own heads.

However, other people aren’t limited by our own perceptions of ourselves. They see us from an outside perspective. So why is it that we are so incorrect in judging how others view us. According to Dean, part of the reason that we get it wrong so often is that that we follow the advice to put ourselves in others’ shoes in order to understand their perspective.

According to the new research by researchers Eyal and Epley (2010), it may be better to use abstract thinking to get a better view of the way others see you. In one experiment, the researchers split their participants into two groups to compare their ability to view themselves from the outside. Participants were trying to judge how attractive they were to another person. The first group adopted the standard tactic of putting themselves in the other person’s shoes, while the second group was asked to imagine they would be rated by the other person in several months’ time.

People trying to put themselves in the other person’s shoes were awful at the task.

But when participants thought about their future selves, a technique that encourages abstract thinking, their accuracy increased considerably, although not perfect.

The reality is that we cannot see the forest from the trees when it comes to perceptions of how others view ourselves, says Dean. But allowing ourselves to think in broad terms and abstractly lets us realize that there is a forest and not just trees; and in turn, we have a better understanding of the trees.

This technique of abstract thinking may be helpful in the mediation context. Specifically, when a person has a hard time of evaluating the matter from another perspective, it might be helpful to have them first think about abstract concepts. For example, asking a client to think about the value of lawsuits in society, or the value of juries in society, might just start that person towards thinking about how a jury might react to his or her case.

Reference

Eyal, T. & Epley, N. (2010). How to Seem Telepathic: Enabling Mind Reading by Matching Construal. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610367754.

By Steven G. Mehta

Here is an article By CNN that I thought was interesting regarding employment.  I thought you might be interested.

A wave of labor unrest across Europe has highlighted just how important negotiation skills are in the current economic climate.

In Germany Lufthansa staff took industrial action while British Airways workers voted for strike action. Meanwhile air traffic controllers and oil-refinery workers in France have taken industrial action, and in Spain and Greece there have been protests over government austerity measures.

But dealing with strikes is just the most extreme example of the kind of negotiations managers have to deal with every day. Knowing how to negotiate is essential for resolving workplace conflicts, making deals with clients, and moving an organization forward.

Dr Mark de Rond teaches successful negotiation strategies at Cambridge Judge Business School, in England. He told CNN the ability to empathize is a valuable tool in any negotiation — but it’s a skill senior managers don’t always develop.

“If you look at management, particularly at the higher levels, you have people who are very busy and empathy probably doesn’t come naturally to them,” he told CNN.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

By Steven G. Mehta

In the movie American Pie, there is a character named Alison who always said the phrase, “one time in band camp….”  Everytime she said the phrase, she would have this whimsical lilt to her voice. Initially, the main characters ignored her (partially because of her “annoying” voice), but eventually in the series it turned out she was a very empathetic person who helped the main characters in their endeavors.  Well it turns out that Alison’s linguistic inflection have been found to scientifically make her more empathetic.

A new study has found that being able to change intonation in speech may be a sign of superior empathy?  The new study finds that people use the same brain regions to produce and understand intonation in speech.  The study also suggests that people learn by imitating through so-called mirror neurons. In other words, people learn how to speak by mirroring others’ prosody — the music, rhythm, and intonation of speech.

The study also finds interestingly that the higher a person scores on standard tests of empathy, the more activity they have in their prosody-producing areas of the brain.  So increased empathic ability is linked to the ability to perceive prosody as well as activity in these motor regions, said authors Lisa Aziz-Zadeh and Tong Sheng of USC, and Anahita Gheytanchi of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology.

“Prosody is one of the main ways that we communicate with each other.” “If you have a pet, they basically are understanding your prosody,” Aziz-Zadeh said.

Studying prosody is actually looking at the message that is being sent from the tones, intonation, and rhythm of the words.  Studies have shown clearly that a huge percentage of communication is in the form of understanding prosody.

Based on this study, it is not clear whether empathy brings about prosodic activity or whether frequent use of prosody can somehow help to develop empathy.

However, the ability to understand communications non-verbally is an important skill in being able to empathize. My suspicions are that a person who can understand more non-verbally or through prosody will be increasing their ability to be empathetic. In other areas of communication, it has been found that mirroring can increase the ability to be liked.  There appears to be no reason why mirroring of the voice wouldn’t also create a reaction in the person who is mirroring.  More research on this will certainly be enlightening.

Journal Reference:

Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, Tong Sheng, Anahita Gheytanchi. Common Premotor Regions for the Perception and Production of Prosody and Correlations with Empathy and Prosodic AbilityPLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (1): e8759 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008759

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