The Depth And Complexity Of Empathy

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Most definitions of empathy are based on the same core idea - empathy is the ability to understand and identify someone else’s thoughts and feelings, as if they were one’s own (wordreference online dictionary, 2016). Although it’s been said “there are probably nearly as many definitions of empathy as people working on the topic.” (de Vignemont & Singer, 2006, p.435) suggesting that there is no singular way to even define empathy, let alone explain its impact on our behaviour. Due to the sheer depth and complexity of empathy it’s understandable that each discipline within psychology presents it’s own explanation for why we experience it, and how it can affect our interaction with the world around us. Psychologists have been exploring empathy for decades, in hope of gaining a complete grasp of what it means and how it can vary between each person, therefore its important we look at different psychological perspectives to try to understand it’s many dimensions.

For a number of years empathy was difficult to measure, as there was limited basis of empirical data. This changed with the progression of technology, as the biological approach could then using brain imaging techniques to visually represent the activity going on in the brain and biological psychologists could then research links between the activity and behavioural traits like empathy. One way in which biological psychology has helped us understand empathy as a complex trait is through exploration of mirror neurons.
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