Problematic research: If you don’t feel empathy for a patient, is the solution to fake it?

If you don’t experience empathy for another person, this 2014 Harvard study showed how to use your cerebrum to manipulate your limbic system into displaying a proxy of empathy.

Is this what we want from our human interactions? To have a way to produce an emotion the same way that an actor would as they read their lines?

How to finesse the effect of “no empathy” was the focus. Because these researchers didn’t define a lack of genuine empathy as a symptom of a fundamental problem, they absolved themselves from investigating any underlying causes.

Nice trick in the academic world.

In the real world, in which we are feeling human beings, what may be a cause of no empathy?

Let’s say that someone is in a position that helps people. They have daily encounters where they may be expected to be empathetic, but they seldom have these feelings for others.

One hypothesis of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy is this condition’s origin may be that in the past, a person needed help as a matter of survival, and they weren’t helped. Their unconscious memories of being helpless impel them to act out being helpful in their current life.

This person’s frequent reaction to any hint in the present of the agony of not receiving help back when they desperately needed it is to act out what they needed to have done back then. Helping others also gives them momentary distraction from such painful memories, but any relief is transitory. So they repeat the process.

Let’s say that unconscious needs pressed them into making a career choice of actively helping people. They’re usually too caught up in their own thoughts and feelings and behavior, though, to sense feelings of the people they’re helping.

Something isn’t right, but what’s the problem? They see indicators such as: their actions that should feel fulfilling aren’t fulfilling, they seldom feel empathy, and so on.

Primal Therapy allows patients to therapeutically address origins of such conditions. A symptom such as lack of empathy for others will resolve as historical pains are ameliorated.

Or we can do as this study suggested: produce an inauthentic display – and thereby ignore the lack of empathy as a symptom – and never address causes of no empathy. “Episodic simulation and episodic memory can increase intentions to help others”


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