We feel your pain: Extreme empaths

 作者:公西硝款     |      日期:2019-03-01 03:02:11
By Helen Thomson HORROR films are simply a disconcerting watch for the majority of us, but for Jane Barrett they are literally torturous. She writhes in agony whenever the actors on the screen feel pain. “When I see violence in films I have an extreme reaction,” she says. “I simply have to close my eyes. I start to feel nauseous and have to breathe deeply.” She is just one of many people who suffer from a range of disorders that give rise to “extreme empathy”. Some of these people, like Barrett, empathise so strongly with others that they experience the same physical feelings – whether it’s the tickle of a feather or the cut of a knife. Others, who suffer from a disorder known as echopraxia, just can’t help immediately imitating the actions of others, even in inappropriate situations. Far from being mere curiosities, understanding these conditions could have many pay-offs for neuroscience, such as illuminating conditions like phantom pain. They may even help answer the age-old question of whether empathy really is linked to compassion. There is a general consensus that empathy-linked conditions arise from abnormalities in the common mechanisms for empathy found in all humans: although few of us experience sensations as powerful as Barrett’s, we all wince at a brutal foul on the football field and feel compassion for someone experiencing grief. Many studies have suggested that our capacity for empathy arises from a specific group of neurons, labelled mirror neurons. First discovered in macaque monkeys,