Can Empathy Be Taught?

Modern research has documented the existence of mirror neurons, brain cells located in our frontal lobes that allow us to respond empathetically to another person.

It turns out that the brains of human beings diagnosed with autism by and large are deficient in mirror neurons. This may account for the autistic person’s inability to relate empathetically to others.

Because the human brain is plastic at birth, in theory it should be possible to cultivate the development of mirror neuron synapses to encourage heightened empathetic responsiveness in individuals.

Just how we could go about doing this is unclear, but there is some suggestion that early and ongoing exposure to good art, music, literature and quality mentors may serve to facilitate the development of mirror neurons.

Although we may not be able to teach empathy to others by instruction, it may be the case that empathy can be learned—through imitation.


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