Tag Archive for empathy

Evolution of Empathy

Cows in Moonlight by Ohara Koson 1927

It’s Valentine’s Week and I thought to remark on empathy. First, a bit of a definition. Sympathy is when you relate to the emotional states of others. Usually, we sympathize with someone’s pain and suffering. It’s common to express (or invoke) our sympathies when someone is in a hospital or when a person we know had died. There is a whole industry dedicated to sympathy expression — flowers, cards, food, etc. Empathy is different. We might express sympathy for someone accidentally hitting their hand with a hammer, it’s a polite thing to do. But when we empathize with that person, we feel their pain. That’s a whole order of difference in our perception and understanding of the emotional and physical conditions of others. We can express sympathy without feeling any empathy. Thus sympathy is a social, cultural construct. Empathy is a true internal emotion. Empathy is something that takes time to develop. Human babies are not born empathizers. But those who learn empathy, somehow, truly become human then. For the longest time, scientists didn’t believe that any other animals other than humans were capable of feeling empathy. Of course, anyone who has ever had a pet or observed animal behavior…

Baby Killer

Baby Killers' Dinner

Baby Killer Brian was running away. He dumped his laundry basket into the trunk of his car, wrapped his computer in a towel and stuffed it underneath the mixture of dirty and clean clothes, and took off North. His college midterms went poorly and the paper he wrote for the world philosophy class was just dreadful. He was tired and haven’t slept in a very long time. Life had gotten to be too much lately and he had enough of it. He drove into the night. He liked staring into the passing lights, it was easy to lose oneself in the monotony of the highway in the dark — nothing to really see, just the passing the headlights, reflectors, and the lit highway signs. He drove most of the night. In the gray pre-dawn, he noticed a small billboard for a rest stop, offering hot coffee. Without making a conscious decision, Brain found himself turning off on a small side road and then into a parking lot of a medium-sized diner. Quite a few cars were already parked in a cluster around the front entrance. Soft yellow light spilled out of the curtained windows. Brian parked his car in the…

Sci-Fi Bites: The Boy Who Finds


Short Science Fiction Stories for Kids These are stories that are written for middle school and high school kids. The stories are fun and different and introduce characters and situations that might be new and yet eerily familiar. My aim was to help develop empathy in children. The stories are available in Kindle Vella, but since there is no way to share illustrations, I have included illustrations for the first short story, The Boy Who Finds, below. Have fun reading!

Empathy on the Brain

Empathy is a necessary component of product design. To design and make something that is comfortable to use for someone else, requires the maker of the product to imagine how another human being would feel while using it. This is a hard thing to do. Medical students have to take “bed side manners” classes that explicitly teach empathy for the patient. Some design schools do the same (check out this video in Product Design Resources). Fortunately, humans come equipped with a special region in the brain whose job it is to help us see the world from another’s point of view. Here’s a short introduction by Rebecca Saxe, “How we read each other’s minds.” So when we go to the movies, we relate to the characters and feel what they feel, and cry when they are sad, and laugh when they are happy, and cringe when things get awkward, because we have the Right TPJ (or RTPJ) region in our brain just behind and above our right ear. We aren’t born ready to use this part of our brain, as the experiments described by Dr. Saxe in the video show. It takes a long time for this social problem solving…

Be the Customer

By our very nature, humans are an “us versus them” kind of mammal. We are quick to judge and categorize: “he’s our kind’a people” or “she’s management.” We adapt and root for our favorite sports teams, sometimes even resorting to violence to “defend our guys.” We peg an art department against the engineers; we side with nurses over doctors; we fight with democrats against republicans; we wave our flags in a spirit of nationalism. And it doesn’t matter if we all work for the same company, heal the same patients, want the same basic rights, or live on a very small planet—we tend to take sides. So it’s no surprise that when product designers develop products the feeling of “us against the users” creeps up into the process. To protect the design process from these “us versus them” impulses, we can create a well-realized user personas based on the the audience taxonomy developed during the conceptual design stage of product design. For each major category in the audience taxonomy, a sample fictional user is created which embodies all of the traits in that audience category: age, profession, socio-economic background, culture and sub-culture, interests and dislikes, family status, education level, etc.…