Tuesday, 19 Jun, 2007 Offbeat

Inborn Empathy - In Other's Shoes Completely


Scientists study a rare condition called mirror synesthesia in people who can feel the touch just by looking at other person being touched.

The recent research conducted by the University College London reported about people who had the extremely rare ability to have exactly the same sensations as the other person has when watching him or her. This condition was earlier found only in one person and now researchers found as much as 10 people with mirror synesthesia. When those people watch the other person being touched, the neural response in their body is a tactile feeling.

Scientists are familiar with the condition called synesthesia when a person has a mix of sensations at a time, like seeing sounds or hearing colors. Such condition is found in one out of 23 people.

The recently studied mirror synesthesia was examined with the help of brain scans, registering an activation in certain areas of the brain and tactile response when participants saw the other person being touched.

Experts also performed a test, when the person with mirror synesthesia was touched at the right cheek while watching the other participant being touched at the left cheek. As a result so called synesthetes had a sensation of both touches.

Those endowed with the rare ability were also found to be highly empathetic. According to the psychological tests they show higher scores on emotional reactivity scale in comparison with people who do not have this ability.

Usually, people learn empathy by doing the same actions, at least mentally. Studying people with mirror synesthesia emphasizes that empathy is a result of being able to put oneself in other people's shoes.

The new findings can be helpful for understanding and better treatment of other conditions such as autism, when a person has a difficulty relating to others.

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