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?
Skeptical kinkster musing on whatever takes my fancy!