Social scientists began to take a new look at empathy as a way to improve interpersonal relations.
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To imagine a mountain rising is to project my own feelings of striving upward into it.
Psychologists vigorously debated whether the phenomenon engaged actual movements of muscles and limbs, or was merely a mental exercise that made use of “the mind’s muscles.” As it happened, the same decades that saw Einfühlung become vital to art psychology also saw the rise of the new field of experimental psychology.
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Some clinicians turned to empathy as a therapeutic skill that required the therapist to put aside judgment in order to see the world more fully from the client’s perspective.
Furthermore, the war had exposed social fault lines between those of different races, religions, and cultures.It was thus in 1908 that two British psychologists, Edward Titchener and James Ward, coined “empathy” for Einfühlung.Titchener, director of the Cornell psychological laboratory, fashioned the term empathy on analogy to sympathy, but distinct from it.As a means to understand others, empathy gained cultural influence after the Second World War.Soldiers suffering from war trauma and neuropsychiatric injuries put clinical psychologists and psychiatrists in high demand.Performers such as Lucille Ball spoke of empathy with their television audiences, and psychologists studied empathy between workers and managers in industrial settings.The concept of “cultural empathy” circulated in the 1960s to forge links between those with different ethnic, racial, and national identities.Only recently, however, has empathy garnered new attention as a hard-wired capacity in the brain.In 1996, scientists in a neurophysiology laboratory in Parma, Italy, announced the discovery of “mirror neurons.” These neurons, wired up in a macaque monkey’s prefrontal lobes, fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but also when the monkey perceived another monkey performing that action.Neuroimaging experiments soon determined that humans possessed a mirror neuron system spread across different areas of the brain.The use of neuroimaging techniques to test social psychological abilities has exploded over the past decades in the interdisciplinary field of social neuroscience.