3 Reasons to Cultivate Empathy | Omega

Empathy is a good thing...but why? There are now a number of studies to aid our understanding of how empathy helps, well, just about everything. Here are three examples.

1. It’s good for the environment

Research published in the Journal of Environmental Education shows that people are far more likely to be motivated to do something positive for the natural world when they discover that some animal they like (in the case of this study, birds) is threatened than if they themselves, or even other humans, are in danger. It seems "Save the Birds" is a more effective slogan than "Save Ourselves."

After surveying roughly 3,500 people about what factors would lead them to reduce their carbon footprint to help slow global warming, the scientists found that tapping into our tendency toward compassion for others was a more effective motivator than appealing to self-interest.

One possible reason for this, the authors say, is that framing climate change in the context of a personal threat or a threat to other humans may elicit denial or an unconscious pushing off of the threat into the future, delaying action. 

2. It’s good for business

Managers with more empathy may translate to healthier employees, research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes shows. 

The study, which followed employees at an IT company, found that employees were less likely to report feeling sick when their manager was inclined to empathize with what they were feeling. What’s more, the employees reported being happier working under such a manager. 

Happy and healthy employees, beyond the value in simply being happier and healthier people, are good for business. The New York Times reports that employee disengagement costs the United States $300 billion each year due to lost productivity. 

Encouraging managers to be more empathetic may be just as important as encouraging them to be more efficient. In fact, empathy may improve efficiency.  

3. It’s good for relationships

In recent studies, empathy has been demonstrated to have a variety of positive effects on our social interactions. Here are a few examples of empathy's impact: 

  • Increases altruistic behavior: We’ll help others even when doing so goes against our own self-interest. In this way, empathy helps us to reduce inequality. (Conversely, it also seems that inequality can reduce empathy, in that once people achieve financial success they exhibit less empathy.) 
  • Reduces racism: According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, empathy helps reduce pre-existing bias. 
  • Reduces bullying and aggression in children: Research measuring the effectiveness of the Roots of Empathy program shows an increase in social/emotional understanding and pro-social behavior and a decrease in aggression in children who participate.
  • Benefits intimate relationships: Family researchers at Greater Good explain, “People who gauge their partner’s thoughts and feelings more accurately during disagreements are generally more satisfied with their overall relationship.”

© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies