Mirroring People: The New Science of
Empathy and How We Connect with Others
Because mirror neurons re-create for us the distress we see on the
screen. We have empathy for the fictional characters - we know how
they feel - because we literally experience the same feelings
If we use the body data, and our body knowledge,
and our body wisdom to increase that connection, to increase that
empathy, decrease the violence, we can have world peace....
So please join me, become an Empathy Ambassador too.
Associate Professor, School Of Social Work, Arizona
We propose that a targeted and structured
explication of empathy is a useful, if not essential, foundation
for social work theory and practice. We outline a social work
framework for empathy, one that is rooted in an interdisciplinary
context, emphasizes recent findings in the field of social
cognitive neuroscience, and yet is embedded in a social work
context..., students can learn to use their knowledge, values, and
skills, informed by empathy, to take empathic action consciously.
Convener: Edwin Rutsch is founding director of the Center for Building a
Culture of Empathy.
his full Bio here.
Transcription (We video tape many interviews
and empathy conference panels. It's helpful to have a transcript
of these videos since it makes it easier for viewers to quickly
access the contents We invite you to help out.
this page for instructions on how to do it. You will
be contributing to the viewers ease of use and personal growth, as
well as, helping to build a culture of empathy and compassion.
We are grateful for your help!
Marco - neuroscientist and neurologist. Professor UCLA Brain
mapping center. Studies Human brain mirror Neuron system that we think
is important for empathy
Karen - associate professor in school of social work at
Arizona State University
Have been Rediscovering Empathy through the
lens of the social cognitive neuron science that has come out in the
last ten years (including Marco’s).
Rhonda - a performing artist, consultant and coach, TED
talker and Empathy ambassador.
Main passion is improvisation and using
improvisation to help people knowing who they are and what to wish from
their lives and how to go get it.
02: 45 How do we raise the level of empathy within
importance of dialogue as a first step (Edwin).
-The importance of starting talking about
empathy at an early age in life.
- Infant mental health and the mother -
-The more people that talk about Empathy
the more solutions we can come up with (Karen)
-The importance of talking about good things
that happens in the world.
-Spreading the word person by person,
-The ripple effect of empathy through
-The pivotal role of the science of empathy
- being able to present how it works thus arming us with the tools
-Main motivation with scientifically studies
of empathy is being able to reach out to the public.
-Research shows the human intrinsic
disposition for empathy – it is in our nature.
-Through various talking points and other
channels we can articulate the importance of empathy and putting it back
into the public discourse.
-Empathy is something interdisciplinary thus
forces you to go outside your own comfort zone.
-Empathy is not only about neurons and
science. It is also about performing arts and about opening up your mind
10:05 Sterotype of empathy as a
-Lack of respect for empathy as a kind of
sexism, belittling and relegating it to soft values that do not really
-The importance of men talking about
-The strong impact of science to engage
people for empathy (Rhonda).
-Empathy in terms of masculinity. Example of
mammoth hunters needing empathy to work in teams and read each other’s
emotions for a successful outcome. Maybe this is something that
resonates with men (Edwin).
-Neurosciences suggest that women tend to be
more empathic than men. But it is a matter of degree – not that women
are empathic and men are not.
-The importance of empathy for a rich life.
Empathy and the human body
-Doing things, such as moving and crying,
from an acting point of view to get them to experience the mirror
-. Asking questions such as: what went on
in your body when I was crying? To some extent you felt what I felt.
-The physicality of empathy: Empathy is
also in our bodies, not only in our cognitive abilities (Rhonda).
-The view of the mind as a disembodied,
digital computer. This is all wrong. Even in the highest thoughts that
we have, the neurons come from perceptual experiences and it id a lot
of data that suggest that (Marco)
-Physicality is a good and fast way to
opening that door to understand what empathy is.
-The power of body language and mirroring
others. Builds understanding and helps to be less judgmental
-Empathy development through bringing
performing art into the social work in order to understand other people
-One of its tenets that it is built on is
body data, body knowledge and body wisdom.
-Body data being the information that comes
in to your body at any moment (hunger, fatigue etc).
-Body knowledge is when you add up all that
body data over time. A good example is your sleeping habits – if you
sleep on your side, on your back, hard or soft pillow etc. People will
be able to talk about this for five minutes.
-The understanding about your body data is
your body knowledge.
-The body wisdom brings in the empathy
aspect and it is using your body knowledge to make the world work better
for you or other people. For instance understanding your body language
and its impact, and being able to change.
-Understanding your body wisdom to make the
18:47 Empathy in the mind and body connection
-The brain uses all those really subtle body
language skills cues to establish a level of connection of the
relationship that you are having.
-We tend to focus on the linguistic level,
thoughts through words, but even as we talk those subtle cues sometimes
can completely disrupt a conversation.
-The body as an important tool for conveying
information and establishing a basic level of empathy (Marco).
20:15 Panel group mirroring exercise. How does it
feel? Do we feel more connected now?
21:07 Impact of technology when connecting with others.
-We can interact through Skype, email,
twitter and connect even though we are far away, thus taking away the
magical element of face-to-face interaction. This is compellingly
-Pros and cons with technology. What is
going to happen with our brain when we live more and more with
technology? Will it change the way we interact with people?
-The shift towards online education in
-My take is that this is not good.
If there no other way of doing it – it is good. But not for replacing
class room education. Technology is not that committal which can be
detrimental to the learning process (Marco)
-To ask what happens with our brains and
what happens when we take students out of the classroom – this is a
really different way of looking at it and the importance of being in the
-To only view it as an option is one
thing, but should we jump so fast to get everything online because we
-Because it is more convenient to stay in
your house and communicate through technology, people will stay home and
do it online. This is going to be a big loss for learning and for the
-“On internet” by Hubert Dreyfus.
Internet teaching removes commitment (Marco)
-A large part of learning is about mirroring
the person that you are learning from. Art student studying the great
masters are mirroring their work.
25:00 How do change the social structure so it
-Going back to that earlier question on how
much is in our bodies and how much is in our brains. Being on screen
like this it really curtails the amount of experimental learning that
you can do where you get to involve your whole body and being in
something versus this: ok, I am going to focus here.
-In an online conference when people
cannot see us and when people are saying something not so important to
us, there is always a temptation to do other things meanwhile, such as
checking e-mails etc. (Rhonda).
-To be bodily present in interaction with
others gives more meaning to what you are doing (Marco)
27:00 Question for RM. Mirror neurons and performing
arts – what is your perspective on this?
- RM came to the performing art late in life
with lots of bodily information and experiences and felt just like
coming home like coming home since it was the experience of going into
character or expressing something with just body and not voice.
-This experience gave a fabulous outlet for
discharging all of the information that body has been gathering what it
is to be human.
-Improvised stories are not my story and I
am able to put myself in that person’s situation because that I have
the ability to see or experience other people to have that vicarious
experience. This makes you a lover of humanity and a feeling of being
fortunate for being an empathetic person (Rhonda).
-In mediation training you do role playing
taking on different roles of the disputants and are given exercises.
Acting is a inherent fundamental quality that everyone can do if they
just let go a little bit (Edwin)
32:50 Mirror neurons, empathy and fiction
-Using imagination and life experiences to
interact with others.
-You can reenact in yourself those
(fictional) people which are a wonderful thing to do since it makes
life richer (Marco)
-Reading a lot of books shaped all the
stories in my body, just by reading (Rhonda).
-Literature and narratives are so important.
As a scientist I think that science and rationality are important too,
but humanities are also so important for our mental lives.
-Mirroring fictional adults. When you read
a novel you mirror the characters of the novel and then you have a
rich internal life because of this, thus making you a richer and more
empathic person towards other people (Marco)
-The world became more empathic when
writing and distribution of novels began (Rhonda).
35:25 Where does each of you find most empathy in your
lives? Most intense moments of empathy?
-In dance. A weekly dance – a whole bodily
-My whole life is about empathy and being
in relationships and relating with others (Rhonda)
-I am feeling empathy for everything I do
in life (Marco)
37:10 Does science support that we have more empathy
for people that are most like us or that we are closest to? What about
feeling empathy for injustice and identifying with oppressed and
Does this come natural to people?
How do you
reconcile those two sides, when science suggests that we identify and
empathize with people who most are like us?
-Two dimensions to this.
-1) Individual difference level. Some people
tend to be more empathic than others.
- 2) Also a phenomenon that, on average,
people tend to be more empathic towards people who are like them.
However, the brain can learn from experience to empathize with people
who are different from you (Marco).
-Empathy and expanding circles – why is this
seen an ultimate truth? Through travels in various culture I I connected
with people from all kinds of cultures and sometimes even developing
deeper relationships and empathic connections with them than with people
I grow up with.
-This this phenomenon goes back throughout
history. How could Marco Polo travel around the world? This notion that
it is a scientific truth creates fear of other cultures.
-Phenomenon tied to fear can be easily
-We can learn to be an empathic civilization
-Fairness in two year olds. A fundamental
step is learning what is fair. Fighting injustice is a part of empathy
-Empathy teaches you to become fair. If I
can put myself in your shoes, then I can see why fairness is so
important. That could happen to me to. These two building blocks become
the foundations for morality.
-Empathy becomes fairness which becomes
-We need empathy for fairness and injustice.
Be able to read others to know what fair and just is.
44:46 Closing ideas and comments.
Karen - Appreciation especially on Rhonda's
performing art perspective since it is so different from the academic
Marco - The great thing is not only talking
about this, but also to interact with people from a different back
Rhonda - Grateful that there are people out
there that can put the science behind what the mystics have always known.
-It is hard for people to understand
mystical and intuitive things that we cannot see, hold or measure.
Thus it is fabulous with the cross- dialogue between scientist and with
people like me who just assumed it was true, but did not really have any
proofs. I am also so grateful, Edwin, that you are putting us together
and that you are doing what you are doing. For gathering the resources
on your website and for spreading the word.
Edwin - The
two sides - the arts and the science connecting - and the connection is