Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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20-Feb-2004

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Empathy and pain



Empathy helps people create and maintain the person-to-person relationships that are important for survival.
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When your parents punish you and say, "this hurts me as much as it hurts you," they might not be making it up. Feeling empathy activates some, but not all, of the pain-processing regions of the human brain, according to a new brain-scan study in the 20 February 2004 issue of the journal Science.

Empathy is the human ability to feel what others feel. Empathy helps people create and maintain the person-to-person relationships that are important for survival.

Some pain-processing regions of the brains of female study participants automatically activated when their loved ones endured pain. The women who reported the strongest feelings of empathy showed the greatest activity in these pain regions. Areas involved in processing the exact location of the pain on your body, as well as the intensity of the pain, are only involved when you experience pain in yourself. They do not appear to be linked to empathy. Tania Singer and colleagues suggest that humans are hardwired to empathize.

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