There is more to Observation than meets the eye

Stanka Bozalieva / Friday, January 19, 2018

Zombies. Part 2 of The Empathy Series.

Empathy the ability to vicariously experience and to understand the affect of other people.

If you had the chance to read or watch Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, you would be familiar with the concept that follows. In the novel, the main zombie character “R” is rather bored with his existence. He craves human brains, as he is able to “feel alive” through the victims’ memories that he experiences when he eats them (the brains, not the victims). Sound familiar? The good news is that you don’t have to turn into a zombie or eat brains to achieve empathy. You can acquire it simply by performing an observation.

Thanks to your mirror neurons (as described in The Empathy Series: Part 1), the process can be described as it follows:

If I pinch my arm and you are watching me, the same set of neurons will fire in both our brains. However, you will not physically feel “the pinch” because the receptors in your skin will tell you that it is not your arm being pinched.

Based on that idea, there has been some major medical breakthroughs recently. In one example, a patient with a paralyzed hand was able to play “Guitar Hero”.

Image sourse Independent

Another example: patients diagnosed with total paralysis not only are able to move by their will with the help of exoskeletons but they also gain back some sensitivity.

Credit AASDAP/Lente Viva Filmes

The method by which researchers helped these patents accomplish this was simple. While watching a video simulation of the activity, the patient’s brain activity was recorded and then reproduced. While assistive technology was required in both cases, the achievements would not have been possible without the observation portion of the research.

Credit AASDAP/Lente Viva Filmes

All of the above however is motor activity related — does empathy stop there? See more about what happens during interviews and focus groups nicely explained with a few studies done by Uri Hasson in Empathy Series Part 3.