Today’s English speaking practice lesson, the topic I’m going to talk about is the concept of empathy. And because this is Adept English, you can increase your English vocabulary while also bettering your pronunciation and listening comprehension. So that’s the advantage of our listen and learn method, all you have to do is listen to improve your English fluency.
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So what is empathy? If you’re thinking, it sounds like an emotion, and that’s correct. Empathy is the ability to understand and share in another person’s feelings. If you want to connect with someone, see something of yourself in them. You understand them on an emotional level, and that’s called empathy.
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⭐ Winston Churchill
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Emotion Method Empathy Psychological Mammals Psychopath Conscience Neurotransmitters
So today I'm going to talk about the concept of empathy. So it's an important psychological idea, and it means it's a topic, which is about the mind and the brain, which I know you enjoy. And the great advantage, because this is Adept English is that you get to listen to English vocabulary and grammar, and you learn some English at the same time.
So that's our listen and learn method. And you'll notice also today, something different. I'm doing video. I haven't done a lot of video before, but that's what the situation demands. So here we are doing video. So please give us feedback, happy to have your comments, and hopefully I'll be doing more video in the future.
So today's topic is empathy. And I'm going to talk about it from the point of view of being a psychotherapist, but also with a little bit of neuroscience. So the science to do with the brain, thrown in as well. So the word, first of all, 'empathy' in English, it may be a similar word in your language. E M P A T H Y.
And what does empathy mean? Well, it refers to the capacity that each of us has to be able to put ourselves, as we say, in English, 'in the other person's shoes', to imagine what another person is feeling.
So empathy is part of being human, but I think there is evidence that animals too can do empathy or certainly mammals can. They've got the right part of the brain to be able to do some of that. So those of you who own a dog or who've had a pet dog in the past, will know that dogs can be quite empathic if they're bonded with you. Your dog appears to have some sense of what you're feeling and communicates that to you. We do tend to think of it as primarily a human concept though, empathy. I would say that there is quite a variation in how much each of us is able to feel empathy, in our capacity for empathy, how much empathy we can do.
I tend to see it on a range. So we're range is like a scale. Yeah?. We might talk about a bell curve where more people are in the middle of the scale and you get people towards the ends of the scale. So, if I talk about a scale for the capacity to feel empathy, I would say that at one end of the scale, there are people who we might call 'empaths' - those who feel the feelings of other people very intensely and automatically. And then most of us are in the middle, somewhere. And then right at the other end of that scale, you might have people who were in the range of psychopathy.
So if you are a psychopath, that's P S Y C H O P A T H, then that means that you're someone who doesn't feel the feelings of other people. That bit is missing for you. You can't do it. So I would say there's a full range of capacity for empathy in a human being. Some people can do it much more than others. So I've certainly met people who are empaths, who would qualify as an empath. These are people who can walk through a crowd and start to pick up things from other people that they're passing, pick up the feelings, pick up the state of mind of other people. It's not something they want to do necessarily. It just happens automatically!
I'm going to talk in a minute about how it arises, some theories about empathy. But first of all, some Adept English business for a minute, um, just a reminder to all of those who signed up for early access to the Listen and Learn English Consonants Pronunciation Course. Um, the email should be in your inbox with the discount code. So if you want to take advantage of that offer, you've got until the end of May to buy the course. For everybody else, that new course is now on sale on our website at adeptenglish.com.
There is a sales page. So you can go and have a look at the information on the course and find out more about it. And I think there's also on there an audio sample so you can get a sense of what the course is like. It runs in the same way as our podcasts do. So it's very similar, but it's with a focus on pronunciation.
Okay. So what do we know about empathy? Where does it come from? How does it arise? Well, as a psychotherapist - so that's my discipline - we would say that empathy comes about in childhood. So you need to have the experience of someone else having empathy with you. You are 'empathized with', hopefully by your parent, but as long as somebody does that for you, you then may develop your own capacity for empathy.
Um, I think also an important part of that is the development of what we call 'conscience'. So that C O N S C I E N C E. It's harder to spell out when I'm not reading it, notice? Um, so your 'conscience' is the part of your mind that tells you what the right thing to do is. Your 'conscience' might give you a hard time if you've done a bad thing.
So again, looking at that range where you've got, you've got empaths at one and psychopaths or people on that continuum at the other end. Someone who is a psychopath doesn't have conscience. And that's an important difference. So I think if you look at parenting and early experience, then the development of conscience is part of what your parents give you. They remind you 'Think about that person.' Do you know? 'How do you think that person felt when you said this?' That helps develop a child's conscience?
If you go to the neuroscience level, one might argue that some of the neurotransmitters, so that's the chemicals, the hormones in our brain, things like oxytocin. That's O X Y T O C I N, or serotonin S E R O T O N I N, serotonin. That those chemicals make us more able to empathize. So for example, new mothers, mothers who have just had a baby, their system is flooded with oxytocin. I think the point being that they need to bond with their baby. So your capacity to feel empathy when you're full of oxytocin is much greater.
So you could argue that neurotransmitters play a part in empathy. What's also really interesting, there was a discovery in 1996, which I think has been developed since, by an Italian researcher called Vittorio Gallese. What he did was to scan monkey brains. So poor old monkeys are always being used in these psychological experiments. And what he observed was that the same neurons were activated in a monkey's brain, when the monkey was observing another monkey, doing an action, the same neurons got activated as when the first monkey is doing the action.
So, um, he coined the term, invented the term 'mirror neurons'. And although we're not at a point or scientists, aren't at a point where they can absolutely prove the existence of 'mirror neurons', the suggestion is that we all have these throughout our brains. So 'mirror', M I R R O R. If you want to fix your hair in the morning or your makeup, you look in the mirror to see yourself. So we might talk about 'mirroring' or 'to mirror'. We make it a verb - means you reflect something'. And a 'mirror neuron'? Well a neuron, N E U R O N - that's a nerve in your brain. It's a little, they look like trees, little branches in your brain.
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We all have neurons. And that's what, when our brain is active, it's our neurons firing, that gave us the capacity to think and to feel and to experience. So 'mirror neurons' is a very interesting idea. If you think of various experiences that we have as a human being, if somebody yawns, that might make you yawn. So, 'to yawn', Y A W N - it's when you, I'm not going to do it, but you open your mouth wide because you're tired.
That's a yawn. Um, our 'mirror neurons' may also be firing when someone else laughs or smiles - it makes us want to laugh and smile back. I think of the examples. Um, if you have a newborn baby, They're very, very good at mimicking, even when they're very young. So if you hold them and look at them, they can copy your facial expression from quite early on. So that's interesting. It's as though some of it is already there when we're born, but I think that we develop our capacity for empathy and our capacity to mirror, in relation to our environment as well.
Thinking of other examples where theoretically our 'mirror neurons' are perhaps firing.
If you watch a film and say something horrible is about to be done to somebody say someone's about to have their arm chopped off or their hand crushed. You might go 'Uhh!', and look away because your empathy is such it's as though you can imagine what that might feel like if it were done to you. I think the other example is when you're having an injection or a vaccination, so there's a needle going into your arm.
It's much easier to have that done if you don't look! So you're not having the stimulus of seeing the needle going into your arm at the same time as feeling it. I think most of us find it easier to look away. So the theory is that these 'mirror neurons' are part of what is activated when we're feeling empathy for somebody else. And that's part of what makes us human. It's part of what gives us compassion for other people. So it's quite an important part of our human character.
Okay. So those are some ideas for you around empathy. If you want to get in touch, or if you want to comment, then please do so! You can comment on YouTube or you can email us. Don't forget also to give us reviews, whether it's Spotify or Google podcasts, wherever you listen to us. And response too about my doing video - I'm really interested to have some feedback on the videos. Okay.
Enough for now, have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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