I would recommend this Scientific American article (link) discussing our ability to empathise.
It seems that there are several forms of empathy. The one we commonly think of is an emotional and situational empathy. We can place ourselves in another's shoes and gain some form of understanding about how they might feel and why they react in the manner they do. But empathy goes much further than this. Evidence shows that the same neurons are fired whether we directly experience something or when we observe it happening to others (European Journal Neuroscience). This is not restricted to humans but has also been observed in monkeys (Experimental brain research). Additionally, there appears to be a link between the strength of this neural response and individual ability to empathise with another's perspective (Neuroimage) (the Scientific American article summarises each study quite nicely for those unable to open the full papers). So it seems that we may be able to "feel" another's situation to far greater depth than we had previously thought.
I wonder how this links in with peoples choice of books, films and other entertainment, or if it does at all?
And decidedly not in the "woo" sense. This isn't about sending spiritual good feelings to one another but more about behaviour. A really nice blog article came to my attention this morning discussing the influence that assigning attributes to a partner has on the relationship.
Essentially it is the glass half full or half empty perception. You can either view your partners actions in a positive or negative light. I would actually take one step further and also say it is possible to view them in a neutral light until you have further information to go on. It is a choice you can make, although at times this can be much harder than it sounds because our previous experiences play a significant role, so in the end the choice seems to be regarding your actions to any particular situation.
Why is this? Every experience we have, every interaction with other people, will influence how we emotionally respond to and thus perceive any particular situation.
Our senses and brains are how we interpret the world around us. We constantly receive input from the environment about inanimate objects and other organisms. None of this is static. Even the non-living environment can result in situations that require us to act very quickly, for example avalanches, rocks slipping under out feet, earthquakes etc. Because events around us can happen very quickly, we need to have a very rapid appraisal system. Our appraisal system seems to stem from a combination of our ancestral past, a biologically based system, and through our own experience, learned responses and behaviour. Most human to human interactions are part of the learned response systems.
For more information you could take a look at these links.
We receive input, appraise it, this triggers an emotional response, which in turn causes physiological changes that allow us to then act accordingly. Ideally the appraisal process works on a limited set of inputs. it is very effective. However, it can get things wrong and trigger an emotional response based on a past experience that might not accurately reflect the present circumstances, especially when there has been a history of emotional or physical abuse or intense pain from the betrayal or death of a loved one etc.
Good friends of mine, Master George and Slave Bren (the 2011 Southwest Leather Master/slave title holders) call this the "Butcher's bill". Essentially, things that have gone on in the past that cause you to judge a current friend, partner, acquaintance by actions that bear resemblance to actions you have experienced in the past. For example, issues of abandonment (one of my personal issues) can trigger a fear response if I have not heard from a loved one at the appointed time. It is not simply worry about them, I enter a state of fear of their loss, whether through deliberate or accidental means, ranging from a loved one leaving me through to their death. I have to interrupt that fear cycle in order to recognize that it may just be that their phone is out of battery or they have been caught up in a meeting or any number of possibilities before I act upon it.
They also have a really good way of dealing with the Butcher's bill and it is about changing perception. it is to think of the relationship, be it friendship or family or romantic, as a bank account. You put in credit and take it out again depending on circumstances. All the good and positive things are put in as credit, all the times they have been on time, bought flowers, spent an evening with you, shared experiences with you etc. The more negative things, the arguments and anything done to deliberately hurt you are debits that take away from the balance. In this manner you can more objectively look at the relationship and how it influences your life. Now, that is not to say this can change your positive/negative outlooks on a particular action but it provides a background from which to judge current actions. So if someone is late you can look at the bank balance and see if this is a particular habit of theirs. If it is, you can look to other aspects of the relationship and what you know of them as a person. This helps to interrupt the emotional cycle and prevent, for example, you losing your temper over something that is atypical of their behaviour. A single argument after weeks of putting in credit doesn't necessarily bankrupt the account. Multiple arguments that leave you upset and hurting with none of the good stuff in between obviously bankrupt it and then It also allows you to see if the relationship has a greater positive or negative impact on your life.
I am still working on these concepts myself and seeing how I can break my own emotional cycles. It does help and I can see how it reflects positively on relationships with friends and partners that I have now.
Skeptical kinkster musing on whatever takes my fancy!