ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Power of empathy: How to develop and enhance it?

Updated on August 19, 2016

Empathy is the ability to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience. The ability to empathize is an important part of social and emotional development, affecting an individual’s behavior toward others. And, therefore, it affects the quality of social relationships. The development of empathy begins in childhood and continues to develop as children move toward becoming empathic adults.

By the age of two, children normally begin to display empathetic behavior by having an emotional response to another person’s emotional state. Even earlier, at one year of age, infants have some rudiments of empathy. Children between the ages of 7 and 12 years appear to be naturally inclined to feel empathy for others in pain. The research also found that additional aspects of the brain were activated, when youngsters saw another person intentionally being hurt by another individual, including regions in the brain involved in moral reasoning.

Factors determining empathy -

Empathy is an important life skill that helps us connect and relate to others. One begins to learn this skill in childhood but continues to do so as an adult. A number of factors may have impact on its development:

  • Genetics – Genetics play an important role in one’s ability to develop empathy. Though there is no specific gene for empathy, some of the personality characteristics that influence empathy may be heritable. The personality characteristics that may impact the development of empathy include traits like agreeableness or sensitivity. Other inherited characteristic of callousness may predispose some children to lack of empathy.
  • Cultural influence – In some cultures, a high value is placed on pro-social behaviors and an empathetic response. In other cultures, the same values may not apply or may not apply to the same extent. It has been found that the cultural background of the family may affect a child's ability to develop or the capacity to display empathy.
  • Abuse - Exposure to parental abuse or neglect can have a detrimental impact on a child or teen's ability to cultivate empathy. It has been found that abused or neglected children often have tremendous difficulty relating to others, because they are unable to see another’s point of views and, therefore, usually display serious deficits in empathy.
  • Parenting style - Children learn by imitating and observing parental behavior and attitudes, the process also referred to as modeling. Parental modeling may have a strong influence on the development of empathy in children and teens. Children, who observe parents displaying empathetic behaviors, such as kindness and calmness, may be better equipped to develop these behaviors. Contrarily, if parents treat people with rudeness or callousness, the child will also learn that this is acceptable and appropriate behavior.
  • Temperament - Temperament is comprised of a variety of attributes that form the early basis for personality development. Temperament is thought to be present since birth, having biological foundations. So, individual differences in expression of empathy based on temperament may, in part, reflect genetic influences on empathy development.
  • Parent- child relationship - A measure of quality of child-parent relationship is the security of a child’s attachment to their parents. Securely attached children display behaviors consistent with a trusting, loving relationship with their parents. These typically include being upset by the parent’s absence and being calmed by the parent’s presence, and feeling comfortable enough to explore their surroundings. It has been found that securely attached preschoolers engage in more empathic responding than insecurely attached children. There is also evidence that a secure attachment may be more important for empathy development among some children than among others, which demonstrates that empathy is likely to be influenced by an interaction of other factors within child-parent relationship.

How to develop and enhance empathy –

Though empathy begins to develop in childhood, we can nurture its growth throughout our life. Since it is a radical force for personal and social transformation, we should make empathy an attitude so as to improve the lives of everyone around us. Below are mentioned some habits of empathic people, which we can emulate in order to enhance empathy in us:

  • Cultivate curiosity for others – Empathetic people possess strong curiosity for strangers. We know that children, who are highly inquisitive, develop more empathy. Highly empathic people retain their natural inquisitiveness throughout life. They find other people more interesting than themselves. Curiosity expands our empathy, when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own.
  • Challenge prejudices – We all have our own preconceptions and prejudices, which we always express in our day-to-day interactions with people and situations. They obstruct our observation of the people so that we cannot understand them fully, thereby adversely affecting our expression of empathy toward them. Highly empathic persons always challenge their preconceptions and prejudices and try their best to discover commonalities.
  • Be an attentive listener – By listening hard, we can grasp the emotional needs of the other person. But only listening is not enough. Another requirement is to make ourselves vulnerable after removing our masks and revealing our feelings to others so as to create strong empathic bonds. Empathy is a two way process based upon mutual understanding.
  • Widen your circle of empathy – We need to empathize with people, whose beliefs we don’t share. We can understand the thinking and motivations of others by trying to step into their shoes, which will make us understand their perspectives better. Highly empathic people have a habit of stepping into the shoes of others, which is a great social skill for developing good social relationships.
  • Share yourself with others - The best way to gain trust of others is to open up to share some of your feelings with them. By doing so, you will give others permission to share more of themselves, allowing for deeper conversation. By showing your vulnerability, you will let others share their joys, sorrows and struggles with you.

The bottom-line –

The experts theorize that environmental factors, such as parenting style and parent-child relationships, as well as genetics and individual temperament play a significant role in the development of empathy in children.

It is now apparent that empathy is an inherent trait in humans, mostly mediated by important factors. However, these factors can be modified or changed, thereby showing that empathy can be developed or enhanced by people.

Empathy promotes pro-social relationships, helps mediate aggression, and allows us to relate to others. All of them make empathy an important emotion among children as well as in adults that needs to be cultivated.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)