Audience members’ palms sweat while they watch a tightrope walker teeter over a precipice. Friends wonder how to help each other through struggles, and customers wonder whether a used car salesman is genuinely happy to see them. All of these instances represent forms of empathy: sharing, thinking about, and feeling concern for others’ emotions.
The SSNL studies empathy through a wide range of approaches and methods. We differentiate between different “pieces” of empathy, such as vicariously taking on others’ feelings (emotional empathy), thinking about their experiences (cognitive empathy) and feeling a motivation to improve their well-being (empathic concern, see Zaki, 2016; Zaki & Ochsner, 2016). Our work probes the brain processes that support pieces of empathy, (e.g., Zaki et al., 2016; Morelli et al., 2018), and use computational models to describe how people make sense of others’ emotions based on facial expressions, language abd other cues (Ong et al. 2015, 2019; Zaki, 2013). We’re also interested in when and how empathy leads people to accurate, versus inaccurate impressions of what others are going through, with an eye towards improving interpersonal understanding (Zaki & Ochsner, 2011).
Our lab also explores the benefits of empathy, for example in reducing individuals’ stress and in building relationships (Morelli et al., 2015, Zaki, 2016). We are also interested in the noisy, but powerful role of empathy in guiding moral decisions (Zaki, 2016).