Mirror Neurons on the Wall, Who is the Most Empathic of All?
Gender Differences with Empathy
Let’s begin with a simple explanation of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are brain cells that become active when we observe other people engaging in an action. For example, when we see others experience an emotion, our mirror neurons send signals to help us to feel what we perceive their emotion to be. Most researchers believe the more mirror neurons we have, the greater our capacity for empathy. So, which gender do you think has more mirror neurons?
Most experts think women do. Based upon our experience in training thousands of people in empathy since the 1970s, we agree. But it’s not that simple! We believe men are narrowing the gap. Just as society has fostered the belief that men are better in math (see the prior blog, “Why is Warren Buffett Bullish on America?”), our culture has made it more socially acceptable for women to express emotions and understand others’ feelings.
Also, men are sometimes teased or called overly sensitive or wimpy for doing the same. Historically, male coming of age rituals have emphasized hunting (or bringing home a paycheck), competition and independence. Female rituals have emphasized raising children, cooperation and fostering family closeness —all of which require high levels of empathy and the ability to take in another’s feelings via mirror neurons.
When we share our understanding of the cultural impact in influencing our biology, we don’t want to minimize the hard wiring differences between the sexes regarding the more traditional strengths and specialized roles of men and women. The differential effects of testosterone and other hormones for men and women have been firmly established and recognized in multiple disciplines. Our point is simply the women’s and men’s liberation movements in Western culture have led to more congruency with each other that are freeing both genders to express unique talents, styles and abilities independent of our more traditionally prescribed gender roles. As an example of men incorporating empathy into their lives, we still have our copy of the New York Times Sports Section from April 20, 1997, that marked the first time we saw the word, empathy, headline a male sports story. It’s about baseball and says “Mets Empathize with 0-13 Cubs, but Beat Them Anyway.”
Another observation we have about gender differences with empathy is that men tend to give more advice, ask more questions and try to fix situations when responding to someone who is upset. We also notice that women usually listen more closely and tend to respond by mirroring people’s feelings before they try to fix their problems.
One of the most significant findings in our workshops is that despite women’s head start, men improve their level of empathy significantly! If you want to increase your own empathy in one day by practicing experientially, discovering key principles and participating in discussion, check out the upcoming workshop, Empathy Training: How to Master Personal, Professional and Financial Relationships, on Feb. 8 at UCLA Extension. Once a year, as a community service, we offer this workshop to the public through UCLA. Their fee is only $89 by Jan. 7, or $95 until Feb. 7. No enrollments are accepted on Feb. 8, the day of the class.
Since the 1970s, Psychology of Money has been a leader in helping men, women and families to improve their empathy, emotional intimacy and communication along with their mindset toward money, financial success and family legacy.