The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury

The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury


Translator: Daria Ziablitseva
Reviewer: Denise RQ Even before I became a psychiatrist, I have always been fascinated
by human connection. What makes us connect with others,
and what makes us disconnect? All of us, at some point,
have been on a plane, when we have just settled into our novel, we are listening to music,
or getting our work done, when suddenly, the air is pierced
by the sound of a shrieking baby. (Laughter) Now, I have watched
all kinds of reactions to this from the very sympathetic look
toward the parents to people who look
mildly annoyed or even frustrated, to others literally racing each other to the one
empty seat at the front of the plane to get away from this noise. But on a recent trip to the West Coast,
I saw the most amazing reaction of all. A little three-year-old little boy
wiggled out of his seat, toddled over to that screaming baby,
and offered him his own pacifier. (Laughter) “Wow!”, I thought, that little boy really heard and felt
the baby’s distress.” And isn’t that what all of us want? To be seen, and heard,
and to have our needs responded to? That’s the essence of empathy. So, about ten years ago, a student of mine
called me up with a fascinating idea. He wanted to find out, when there was empathy between people, weather their heart rates
and other physiological tracers actually matched up in concordance. And he wanted to recruit
many doctor-patient pairs, who were willing to have
their sessions videotaped and to be hocked up to monitoring
during those sessions. It took a bit of arm twisting for me
to agree to do this, but it turned out to be
a career-defining decision. One of my patients
who agreed to participate was a young college woman
who had come for help with weight loss. She made progress in many areas,
but not this one. So, we were hooked up
to this skin conductance monitoring, which, it turns out, actually can show
weather two people are in sync, as you see on this slide, where the physiology
actually mirrors one another between the doctor and the patient or if they are out of sync,
or if there is discordance. So, later that afternoon,
my student called up, and he said, “You have got to come over and see this!” So I went down, I looked at our tracings,
and I was blown away. This calm, very self-confident
appearing woman, very articulate, turned out to have massive anxiety. So, our tracings
were actually quite in sync, except that hers was going like this,
while mine was going like this. And I had not realized
what was going on inside of her. When I showed
the tracing to her, she said, “I am not surprised by this at all. I live with this every day, but no one has ever seen my pain.” Not only as her doctor
but as a fellow human being, this moved me to the core. So I went back, watched that video –
this time, as an emotion detective – and tried to see what was happening,
because clearly, I had missed something. I noticed that the highest peaks
of her tracings coincided with
these subtle motor movements such as just flicking her hair,
or looking down in a way, or subtle changes in her tone of voice. Our work continued and as I paid attention to these signs
and responded to them, our work went to a much deeper level. She unburdened herself emotionally and started to exercise
for the first time in her life. And this woman, who had only gained weight
and never lost weight before, went on to lose
almost 50 pounds in the next year. This was groundbreaking for her. It was also groundbreaking for me because I realized
that with this careful attention, I had learned to be more emphatic. Now, back then, everyone thought that empathy was something
that we were born with or without, and that we were kind of stuck with
whether we were or we were not. Imagine what implications there were if doctors, nurses, teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, and girlfriends could learn to be
more emphatic with each other. So I learned everything I could about
the neuroscience of empathy. And this was a very growing field
at the time. And through what I learned,
I developed empathy training. And this training was grounded in
the neurobiology of emotions and empathy, And the training went on to be tested
in a randomized control trial at Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors that were rated
by their patients, were rated much more higher if they were trained on, “My doctor really listened to me,
really showed care and compassion, treated me like a whole person,
and understood my concerns” – some of the components
of the empathy scales – than the untrained doctors. So, this seemed like
a very important message to get out, because some of my training
is just about opening your eyes to the receptive and perceptive aspects of empathy into the empathic responses. To make it easier, I created
the acronym E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. which actually lends itself to remembering the key pieces
of how we connect to people. So, the ‘E’ stands for eye contact. Eye contact is usually
the first indication that we’ve been noticed by someone,
even though cultural norms can vary. Also, eye gaze goes back
as early as maternal infant bonding. It turns out that the infant’s
sharpest focal point is 12 centimeters, which is the exact distance
between a baby’s eyes and a mother’s eyes, when the baby is held like this. Eye gaze is also important when we say hello or greet one another. In our country, our greeting
is usually “Hi” or “Hello.” In the Zulu tribe, the word for ‘hello’ is “sawubona” which means “I see you.” Every human being has a longing
to be seen, understood, and appreciated, and eye gaze is
the first step toward this. The ‘M’ stands for muscles
of facial expression. The human face is the one part of us
that we almost never fully cover up. Our faces are actually a road-map
of human emotion, and because of this, our facial expressions
can not only save our lives but can actually preserve our species. Imagine the disgusted look
on someone’s face who’s just eating rotten food and can signal to a whole tribe to stay away and save them
from getting sick or dying. Or the look of startle
in your friend’s face just before a baseball is about
to hit you in the head, and you might move
just in time not to get hit. Also, the flirtatious glance
that’s returned may be the first sign that you have just found
the love you are looking for. The ‘P’ stands for posture. Posture is another powerful
conveyor of connection. Our open or close postures signal powerful approach and avoidance
signals to others. In one study, doctors, who were told
to sit down on rounds, were rated as much warmer,
more carrying, and estimated to have spent three to five times
longer with their patients, than doctors how stood up
but used the exact same words. The ‘A’ stands for affect. We are trained to label
our patients’ affect as a way of orienting ourselves
to the emotional experience of the person. Affect is the scientific term
for expressed emotions. When you’re with someone,
try just sort of labeling, you know, “Is Jacob sad?”, “Is Jane excited?”, “Is Sally upset?”, and it will change how you hear
what they are saying. The ‘T’ stands for tone of voice. We have all heard the crack in someone’s voice
who is about to cry. We have also heard the edge
in someone’s voice, who is about to get angry. The area in our brainstem that is responsible for
the fight-and-flight response is the same area where the nuclei for tone of voice
and facial expression reside. This means that when we are
emotionally activated, our tone of voice and facial expressions
change without our even trying. So, this means that our emotions are constantly
kind of leaking out for all to see. Some people’s emotions are
a little more concealed than others, but with careful looking, we can hear
and see what these emotions are. The ‘H’ stands for hearing
the whole person far more than the words that people say. Hearing the whole person means understanding the context
in which other people live. It also means keeping your curiosity open and not judging till you really understand
where that person is coming from. The ‘Y’ stands for your response. We respond to other people’s
feelings all the time. We might think that we only experience
our own emotions, but we are constantly absorbing
the feelings of others. It turns out that a helpful guide is
that most feelings are actually mutual. Think about how you feel
when you’re at the airport, and you see a mother embracing her son,
who has just returned from active duty. Think about how you feel
when you see the face of a father, who has just lost his daughter
to dating violence. Think about how you feel
when you see the looks on people’s faces who have lost their homes
to hurricanes and tsunamis. And the look on parents faces who have just lost their children
to school shootings. Our inner experience and feelings
mirror those of others. Our human brain is actually
hardwired for empathy because our survival depends on it. We reflect the feelings of others because that’s what is required
for our survival. We all are here more
because of mutual aid and cooperation than because of survival of the fittest. If we were only wired
for survival of the fittest, we’d be wired to dominate others
and to only look out for ourselves, but that’s not how we’re made. As the Dalai Lama said, “Love and compassion
are necessities not luxuries. Without them, humanity will not survive.” So, how does this all work? We’ve all heard the expression
“I feel your pain.” Now, for a moment,
imagine you are in a parking lot, and you’ve just seen someone’s hand
get slammed in a car door. Now, I’ve seen people flinched, even though nothing’s
actually touched them. And most people will actually feel like
something physical just by imagining it. Neuroscientists have done
some amazing studies trying to map the substrate of empathy. In one study, 16 couples were recruited,
and the women were put in head scanners while they received
painful electric shocks to their hands. As you can see here,
the area in green represents that the entire pain matrix lit up
when they received the shocks. Later, they were told that their partners had just received
the same similar shocks to their hands and you see the area in red
represents almost the entire pain matrix; just knowing that someone else is in pain. Our brains are working
with shared neural circuits, shared neurons, and some mirror neurons so that we actually have
an internal experience of what happens to others. So, when we hear the expression
“I feel your pain,” it is not just a figure of speech; we’re made for this, and it happens
not just with our loved ones. We are at a critical precipice
with technology. Outsiders coming in and observing
our society might guess that we have more intimate relationships
with our smartphones than we do with our significant others. Cyberbullying is probably on the rise
because it is much easier to inflict harm on people
whose pain you never see. It is much harder to have
a meaningful conversation, if what you’re used to
is 140-character tweets. And how do you know whether to say,
“Do you need for me to come over?” if what you have just gotten is a text
that says, “Lousy day” with an emoticon? As Jonathan Safran Foer said, “When we accept diminished substitutes,
we become diminished substitutes.” So, the good news about empathy is that when it declines,
it can also be learned. Employers who want to have
an engaged and productive work force need to get tuned in to the people. Patients who don’t feel cared about have longer recovery rates
and poorer immune function. Students who are disengaged
are more likely to drop out, and marriages without empathy
are more likely to fail. So, empathy matters
in every corner of your life. As the Zulu say
not ‘Hello’, but ‘I see you, ‘ we all need to see each other
to bring out the full potential in others. Most people need to have their specialness
reflected back in the eyes of others in order to see it themselves. Everyone in this audience
has the power to do this. And when we empower others, we can collectively come together
to bring our best selves, to solve the world’s biggest, smallest,
and most vexing problems. That is the power of empathy. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury”

  1. Empathy can not be created by metal thought process.. thats just brain wash,,,, Empathy when found or felt is something else.

  2. This is really interesting. That Skin Conductance is almost a test for the accuracy of empathy. That's phenomenal. I've done a lot of videos on empathy on my channel and while I hadn't seen this particular video before, I am aware of most of what she talked about here. However, I did not realize you could actually test how in-sync two people were. That really blows my mind. 

  3. Dr. Riess exudes empathy in the way she relates-warmth, kind presence, interest in human nature and most importantly a keen desire to help. When I wrote The Power of Empathy in 2000 I speculated about the neurochemical changes empathic interactions create, with Dr. Riess's work we can now scientifically  prove that empathy is good for our brains and for love and compassion to survive.

  4. not buying it, air of comfortable control that's meant to reassure us of what again? That the system works? And ambidextrous too! 

  5. An interesting talk-  Personally I think we should take the blunt skulled neureo typicals and literally bust their thick skulls in so maybe we could actually pour the emotions in so they could feel what i feel at times. they pretend to feel like i do….but they are just hypocritical liars. if people were really empathetic…then the world would a completely different place……

  6. Interesting. But hardly groundbreaking. The bible has been telling us this for more than 2000 years. "Love thy neighbor". It's all about empathy. And guess who wired us this way?

  7. This video was real deep. The ability of people to look at each other and acknowledge our similarities rather than always fighting over the differences be them physical or mental is the big key antidote to resolving conflict without violence. If every individual were willing to imagine themselves in each other's situations rather than write each other off mentally and then justify that write off as a pass to harm each other you wouldn't have armies, jails/prisons, divorce courts, police forces, gangs, war lords, etc. Everyone would be willing to calm down and resolve their disagreements or unfamiliarity without insulting, injuring, or killing each other.

  8. Dear TEDx Talks, can I get your permission in order to use some parts of this video? I need it for reference purpose in my scientist conference

  9. Although unlike the regular driven, motivational TED speech, this one is packed with useful facts. Diction and delivery are superb. The short pauses enable every bit to sink in. The content is enlightening. Very nice talk.

  10. A fascinating video. As a counsellor trained here in the UK, I would say that she was advocating "active listening". Carl Rogers was way ahead of his time.

  11. Check my playlists: " Human Relations " and " English Phonetic Lab " on my YouTube Channel. 😀

  12. I cannot believe there is a word and subject based on this lol. I could have saved myself allot of pain and time and trouble haha. On a serious note a great speech and I think when you are a Empath you do know, the hard part is trying to figure out others Do not 🙁

  13. I've used empathy and telepathy and telekinesis for years I'm pretty good at my craft combining all three …. I read eyes very well which is like seeing into your soul the eyes never lie

  14. empathy is important, but there's usually a reason someone lack empathy. when u go through period years of hard time, its hard to get it. but I agree, lack of empathy can lead to bad decision.

  15. Empathy is powerful! Great to inform empaths and loving souls the traits of those who prey upon us: type 1 sociopaths. They rarely do anything illegal, but will know empaths more than we know ourselves! Therapists will advise to empaths that they need stronger boundaries, but rarely will they share with the empaths about the fact there are people who cannot feel love, remorse, guilt, or empathy and who prey on those who do feel these emotions. They are master boundary breakers! Empaths can have friends who use them and into abusive relationships. Good to know the traits of those who prey on you- who want to control and use you. Empaths: protection is know the traits of the type 1 sociopath (camouflaged among us). Bullying, controlling, blaming, using, cheating, lying, abusive: all traits. Brilliant, sexy, gorgeous, talented, educated – also traits.

  16. she quoted Jonathan Saffron Foyer. he wrote "Eating Animals". that book will help you strengthen your empathy for all creatures.

  17. Do guys share emotions? society has socialized them not to feel. so a person without the skill set to have an emotional conversation. Men manipulate women more, that is why they rule the world with their egos, and women are just present. uh huh that is what guys say when women try to have a serious conversation. your statistics and generalizations show that you are the stupid and retarded person. I hate hillary clinton by the way

  18. i am born with empathy and i am stuck with it i can feel that there is something wrong with someone even if i dont know them
    i can easy understand everyone and i feel strange cuz i feel their pain and i get hurt too🙁😓🤕😢

  19. Great talk. I know sometimes I feel a little deficient in my empathy gauge. I think the science is important to help us understand the importance of empathy.

  20. Empathy can be discovered within and put to good use with sufficient purity of mind, but empathy cannot be taught. Empathy is experienced holistically, using all 7 senses.

  21. this s common sense. body language and facial expressions are the main thing that we observe, unless you are an Empath/Highly Sensitive person. we are born, not taught to be empathic. we can be standing at the bus stop and feel everyones emotion around us. its sometimes annoying, bc sometimes we take on their emotions as our own. we know ppls souls. strangers tell us their deepest secrets, and they are 100% comfortable. its a blessing and a curse. but regular ppl can be taught how to see, while were naturally know and feel.

  22. Amazing and well put together. Everyone should watch or listen to this at least once. Its not rocket science and easy to just think differently. There are so many people suffering and all we have to do is just talk to them and let them know they are not forgotten about. Living in a world like this doesn't make it easy but its not impossible.

  23. This is a great talk on empathy. I took notes on some portions, because remembering these points is so important. My major is Master's in Professional Christian Counseling, and empathy speaks perfectly into my schooling–and life. If every human being gave someone else their prized pacifier, think of how much more amazing this world would be.

  24. Another useless video to brainwash the public into feeling "Empathy" Which is NOT a real feeling. It's just something they push so you behave yourselves.

    I was never brainwashed as a child, so thankfully I'm a REAL human who doesn't have any fake feelings.

  25. In psychic school we call it "matching energy", when we feel someone else's pain. Its also how we learn from our parents as children, why we pick up their suffering, and their functional and dysfunctional traits. We also teach people how to control this in very sensitive individuals or empaths through awareness and spiritual empowerment (ie energy work).

  26. As a nurse I feel very connected with patients through empathy, and I feel I extend this toward family and friends, but I seldom feel my friends and family have empathy toward me. How can one elicit this in people from whom you wanted support or Connection?

  27. Also, I feel overwhelmed often if I focus on others this intently. If I perceive pain, I feel I need to try to make it better as a fellow human being. Treating others as I’d want to be treated. But I struggle to preserve my own energy. I think it can create a one way relationship too. Thank you for listening.

  28. I am a VERY empathic person sometimes to empathic that I get taken advantage of. It's awesome to be empathic but it also has its disadvantages.

  29. Beautiful talk, Helen! Empathy is what makes us HUMAN —- the most profound connections we have spark when two people share a common emotion, and feel each other's pain, joy, sentiment. Much love <3

  30. Big thumbs up for the video, but as much as I enjoy these presentations, can we please (collectively) get off of the "empathy train"? Feeling what someone else feels is always subjective–how does someone feel exactly what another person feels? This is highly subjective at best, and by itself, it is not very useful (not that it's bad or good, empathy is simply a trait). It's the response and action that matter. If I recognize someone is in need/trouble/hurting, etc., and act on it, how much does it matter if I feel the same thing that person is feeling, as long as I recognize there is a need? What if I'm able to sit with them and provide solace (or simply sit with them), is this not good enough? Must we be able to closely "feel" what that person is feeling? It's usually obvious–sad, frustrated, angry, etc. Sorry for the rant. Empathy is the virtue word of the decade, and I'd look to move away from it to compassion and action.

  31. "Cyberbullying is probably on the rise because it is much easier to inflict harm on people you never see"

    Hit the nail on the head with that one.

  32. She is a psychopath – lol only joking. Seriously though she could be. YOU CAN NOT 'LEARN' GENUINE WARM COMPASSIONATE EMPATHY you can increase it if you have it but you cannot reverse psychopathy which is what she seems to be claiming????

  33. This video is truly sad. She's describing the "benefits" of empathy as if she's talking to a group of robots who know absolutely nothing about it. Western society has created a lot of wealth but it has also created an enormous amount of spiritual and emotional poverty. Feeling empathy is the corner stone of what it is to be human, you don't have to break it down like it's an alien concept.

  34. A Big Money Backed Industry ! churches us to do charitable work till Govern Mental welfare social salary took it all away covered by demands on tax's to cover there ploy's

  35. Being empathetic, can be both a blessing and a curse, from my experience. Even though, you know the other person is fake or trying to take advantage of you, you are still willing to help him out with his emotional issues. And i am not so sure but it will probably lead you feeling depressed, which i am experiencing i guess. Because there is no one around you who feels you. And later on ,when you are being too much with the fake world around you, you start developing to read other persons thought , not just the feelings, like a 'psychic' . I guess.. Probably its my anxiety doing all this talk. Sometimes deep down ,i feel like I am the 'chosen one by God, to restore faith in humanity '. Sometimes i feel i am being too rebellion, which i think is good when dealing with outside world.

  36. I’ve learned from my love that there are so many things I don’t know or failed to recognize. As smart as I think I am, thank you Batilda.

  37. E – Eyegaze
    M – Muscles of facial expression
    P – Posture 0 Notice the other person's posture – open, closed
    A – Affect – expressed emotion. Try labeling the other persons expressed emotions upset, happy, sad
    T – Tone of voice – Listen to their tone of voice
    H – Hearing the whole person – understanding the context in which others live. Do not judge
    Y – Your response – Most feelings are mutual

  38. Being an empath is not easy. It is both rewarding and exhausting at the same time. When i was in my younger years, i always thought there was something wrong with me, that i was different compared to my peers. I just discovered a few years back that i am an empath. My fellow empaths understand what i am going through. I’d rather be alone than be with people who i can sense their insincere motives 500 ft away. Most people will say, im just being paranoid and being too sensitive. I just dont knw how to prove it but i can sense even the unnoticeable nuances in a person. Most of the time, i enter a room, i already know who are real to my face and who are not right on. I avoid small talks because for me it is a waste of time. I prefer to be alone on my lunch at work, i avoid people in the bathroom, hallways as much as possible because I can sense their emotions and it’s exhausting. Being alone is my time to recharge, quiet my mind and rest my emotions and the emotions that i feel for others. Only few people understands me. Im looking for videos on how to handle the empaths exhaustion to its surroundings and emotions.

  39. Well this was 6 years ago, This is not the way the world is heading. I have met more narcissistic people than em-paths. This world we live in is losing its empathy at an alarming rate. It has become a selfish me world. How often do people hold open doors anymore? I see tons of vids with people that have dash cams and film horrible accidents, but hardly anyone stops to help. One vid i saw recently made me feel angry and sick. A woman had her cell out, filming a attempted child kidnapping in a down town area. Her boyfriend pulled his car over and chased the guy down. The woman filming was angry and yelling at her boyfriend to get back in the car, its not our business, we dont have time for this. He listened to her and let the guy go. Some years ago a mob would have joined in to catch the guy. Not now. And bullying has become the norm, To push people to the edge of ending their lives. Where is this empathy? My 14 year old daughter barely goes to school anymore and can not even change schools, because she has been bullied for 2 years, and its spread online to every other school she could go to. And no one wants to put a stop to it, and side with the child being bullied, because if they do they become a target. So all the other kids just go along. Schools do nothing if things are said online. Police do nothing. My daughters new counselor says not much she can help with until the bullying stops. I think before all kids leave school they need to pass a class in empathy and compassion for others. Maybe they will grown up to be better adults. We really need more of those.

  40. I dont subscribe to any religions but im a severe empath and the only thing i want to do with my life is help, i just havent found an efficient way of doing that yet and it hurts me greatly

  41. Anyone know if she has plans to teach these to Autistic people? 🙂 it's a lot easier fir them to learn it this way than intuitively.

  42. This Lady is a LIAR about that baby story Folk's..And no one called her on it!! BULLCHIT! This Greedy Fake is a liar People.. Sad!

  43. I have a strong empathic psychic ability and react a lot now even more it gets stronger

  44. this didn't explain much maybe people are empathetic because it makes them feel better about themselves not because they give a spit about others. Perhaps it releases a feel good chemical in the empaths brain maybe 'caring' about others is rooted in self preservation. maybe people are rotten to the core but if they tell themselves 'oh i cared for a homeless guy last Tuesday" they feel better about themselves.

  45. Empathy will never make your successful , the only people ruling the world in general have a critical emotional shut off switch.

  46. A psychologist working on a physiological issue?
    Finally the connection between MIND and BODY is actually being researched.
    Empathy is a SENSE not an emotion.

  47. Thank you for a marvelous compassionate presentation with excellent evidence that encourages us to practice empathy.

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