Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, and Vice Versa

Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, and Vice Versa

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New research shows a simple reason why even the most intelligent, complex brains can be taken by a swindler’s story — one that upon a second look offers clues it was false. When the brain fires up the network of neurons that allows us to empathize, it suppresses the network used for analysis, a pivotal study led by a Case Western Reserve University researcher shows. When the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed.

The study, published in an online issue of NeuroImage, shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time. The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised. More, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

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