When children see others in pain their brains respond as if it were happening to them, according to a new US study.
The response has also been proven in adults, but suggests that healthy children may be naturally prone to empathy. The researchers showed 17 children aged seven to 12 images that included accidents, such as a heavy bowl falling on a pair of hands, and situations in which pain was inflicted on purpose, such as someone slamming a car door on a person's hand, and monitored their brain response. When the pain was accidental, brain circuits involved in processing pain first-hand came into play. Here's more:
"What it shows us is that we have this inborn capacity to resonate with the pain of others. That's probably a very important step toward empathy," said Jean Decety of the University of Chicago, whose study appears in the journal Neuropsychologia. "The children were looking for a reason. If you watch someone being hurt, you want to know why."
As a parent raising two conscientious and caring children these results make complete sense. It also sheds some light on why one crying child might start a chain reaction around him.