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When the brain activates the network of neurons involved in empathising, it suppresses the network used for cold, hard analysis.
The reverse is also true: activating the brain’s analytical networks reduces the ability to empathise.
These conclusions come from a study published in the journal Neuroimage, which is the first to find that we are constrained in our ability to be analytical and empathetic at the same time (Jack et al., 2012).
Dr. Anthony Jack, the study’s first author, said:
“What we see in this study is […] neural inhibition between the entire brain network we use to socially, emotionally and morally engage with others, and the entire network we use for scientific, mathematical and logical reasoning.
“This shows scientific accounts really do leave something out — the human touch.
A major challenge for the science of the mind is how we can better translate between the cold and distant mechanical descriptions that neuroscience produces, and the emotionally engaged intuitive understanding which allows us to relate to one another as people.”
In the study, 45 college students were given a series of problems to think about which either involved physics or considering the feelings of others.