You Don't have to Walk a Mile in Other People's Shoes to be Empathic, Study Says

Khryss | Published 2017-05-21 01:07
"How would you feel if that were done to you?" Ring a bell? Guess we've all heard that- something a parent would say when they're trying to teach their child a lesson on empathy. But a new study finds that such could be a problematic practice. “That’s because there are two routes to empathy and one of them is more personally distressing and upsetting than the other,” authors explained. These may seem really similar but truly differs on how they affect the helper. The first approach (route) is called imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT). It involves putting oneself into someone else's situation or the famous "walking a mile in their shoes" adage. The second is imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT) which means the helper just infers and understand how someone feels. “When we are feeling threatened or anxious, some peripheral blood vessels constrict making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body,” says lead author Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology. “We can detect this in the lab and what we found is that people who engaged in ISPT had greater levels of this threat response compared to people who engaged in IOPT.” This could be of help in understanding  on helpers' health and well-being especially those working in areas with high rates of burnout. “Many of these professionals see so much pain and suffering that it eventually affects their careers,” he says. “That might be the result of habitually engaging in ISPT. They put themselves in their patients’ shoes. Maybe we can train doctors and nurses to engage in IOPT so they can continue to be empathetic toward their patients without that empathy creating a burden.” Teachers and students, social workers and clients could also benefit from this approach. “In fact, now that we’re transitioning to such a service economy, it’s nearly everybody: technical support, complaint hotline operators, restaurant servers.” So rather than asking your children such question above (the first question up there), you might want to consider saying, ‘Think about how that person is feeling,’ Poulin adds.
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