[Paleopsych] Positive emotions and perceptual accuracy

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Wed Feb 16 05:48:12 UTC 2005

This is very encouraging:

"There is abundant evidence now of neoneurogenisis, 
or new nerve cell growth as the result of brain exercises."

I have an exercise similar to yours that I do on the street:
glancing at people and trying to decide what their
emotional state is.  I'm not sure it improves my empathy,
but it does train me to pay attention to their states.

Steve Hovland

-----Original Message-----
From:	Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. [SMTP:ljohnson at solution-consulting.com]
Sent:	Tuesday, February 15, 2005 7:49 PM
To:	The new improved paleopsych list
Subject:	Re: [Paleopsych] Positive emotions and perceptual accuracy

Steve, this is a challenging question. I strive for it but don't see 
myself as excellent. Children have to be taught empathy, most would say. 
Here is a link on current thinking:


Buddhism and Christianity both have much interest in empathy. The last 
time I read through the New Testament, I was forceably struck by the 
number of times Jesus is described as having "compassion" which is (1) 
empathy - knowing how another feels, plus (2) a desire to alieviate 

Buddhism has many exercises on empathy. Generally, the Buddhist 
perspective is of a kind of detached empathy, where one feels compassion 
as a spiritual exercise. For example:
We have seen that Bodhisattva Kannon of the twenty-fifth chapter, like 
Bodhisattva Yakuo in chapter twenty-three and Bodhisattva Myo'on in 
chapter twenty-four, manifests himself in various forms in order to save 
all living beings. In terms of our own practice, this suggests the need 
for developing empathy, insight and responsiveness with respect to 
others. By discerning the hopes and fears, the sufferings and the 
dreams, of the people around us, we can best encourage their faith in 
the Mystic Law. Unless we can discern what is truly on another's mind, 
we will have no convincing encourage-men to offer In this sense, the 
name "He Who Perceives the Sounds of the World" does not simply mean to 
hear physical sounds, but to discern human hearts. As mentioned earlier, 
this power of altruistic insight and response derives from the Buddha 
nature awakened through our faith in the Gohonzon.
So the Buddhist concept is that empathy is our way of communicating 
compassion and salvation to all sentient beings.Only through empathy can 
we teach. Empathy is awakened by faith in our teachers and through 
specific meditational exercises.

The Christian approach to empathy involves using Jesus as a model and 
praying for understanding and compassion. That approach is less inward 
than Buddhism; more outward. To the Buddhist, empathy is an experience, 
to the Christian is it an act. The book of James is the guide, i.e., 
James 2:14-17: "What doth it profit, my brethern, though a man say he 
hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or 
sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto 
them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give 
them not those this which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (KJV) The 
whole book is quite good with this kind of practical empathic religion. 
We have empathy by compassionate prayer and by works (see Matthew 25: 31 

The psychological approach is to demonstrate empathy in interviews by 
statements about (1) cognitive content and (2) emotional state. If the 
empathy is accurate one should see an increase in self-exploration and 
self-disclosure in the client. Also, clients can be asked to rate the 
empathy. I developed an empathy rating scale for my students to give to 
clients. So empathy is empirically judged. Empathy develops through 
supervision and consultation, where one is taught to listen with an 
'understanding heart' and infer the emotional state through minimal 
nonverbal cues as well as verbal content.

Personally, I like to watch crowds of people and pretend each one is my 
sibling, lost and temporarily forgotten. I practice feeling warmth 
toward each one, and try to discern their emotional state by nonverbal 
cues. This only works if you like your sibs. This sort of exercise (or 
the Buddhist meditations) likely intensify the interconnections in the 
left prefrontal lobe. There is abundant evidence now of neoneurogenisis, 
or new nerve cell growth as the result of brain exercises.

I would think that David Smith in this group will have some intelligent 
things to say about this; hope he jumps in.


Steve Hovland wrote:

>Do you know of any exercises for increasing 
>one's capacity for empathy?
>Steve Hovland
>-----Original Message-----
>From:	Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. [SMTP:ljohnson at solution-consulting.com]
>Sent:	Tuesday, February 15, 2005 6:50 AM
>To:	The new improved paleopsych list
>Subject:	Re: [Paleopsych] Positive emotions and perceptual accuracy
>The limbic system plays a role in positive emotions, but they 'source' 
>from the left prefrontal lobe. Meditators show much higher left 
>prefrontal activity and test as happier. Activity in the right 
>hemisphere is associated with more worry and dread emotions.
>Negative emotions are experienced in the limbic system, and during 
>fear/anger/despair the frontal lobes are 'off line' so to speak, on the 
>sidelines and consuming less oxygen.
>Steve Hovland wrote:
>>Do most of the positive emotions arise from the limbic?
>>Steve Hovland
>>-----Original Message-----
>>From:	Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. [SMTP:ljohnson at solution-consulting.com]
>>Sent:	Monday, February 14, 2005 9:20 PM
>>To:	The new improved paleopsych list
>>Subject:	[Paleopsych] Positive emotions and perceptual accuracy
>>Disclosure: Johnson in press release is not related to me.
>>Feb. 1, 2005
>>         Positive emotions slash bias, help people see big picture details
>>ANN ARBOR, Mich.--Positive emotions like joy and humor help people "get 
>>the big picture," virtually eliminating the own-race bias that makes 
>>many people think members of other races "all look alike," according to 
>>new University of Michigan research.
>>"Negative emotions create a tunnel vision," said U-M psychology 
>>researcher Kareem Johnson. "Negative emotions like fear or anger are 
>>useful for short-term survival when there's an immediate danger like 
>>being chased by a dangerous animal. Positive emotions like joy and 
>>happiness are for long-term survival and promote big picture thinking, 
>>make you more inclusive and notice more details, make you think in terms 
>>of 'us' instead of 'them.'"
>>To simulate getting a quick glance of a stranger, scientists flashed 
>>photos of individuals for about a half second, finding subjects 
>>recognized members of their own race 75 percent of the time but only 
>>recognized members of another race 65 percent of the time, Johnson said. 
>>However, researchers found positive emotions boosted that recognition of 
>>cross-race faces about 10 to 20 percent, eliminating the gap.
>>The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal 
>>Psychological Science.
>>Johnson, who is completing his PhD work in psychology, and Barbara 
>>Fredrickson, a U-M psychology professor and director of the Positive 
>>Emotion and Psychophysiology Laboratory, specialize in the power of 
>>positive emotions.
>>Researchers asked a group of 89 students to watch a video either of a 
>>comic to induce joy and laughter, a horror video to induce anxiety, or a 
>>"neutral" video that would not effect emotions. They then looked at 28 
>>yearbook style photos of college-aged people in random order for 500 
>>Subjects who watched the comedy tested for having much higher positive 
>>emotions, while those who saw the horror video had far more "negative" 
>>emotions. In a testing phase, more images flashed by and they were asked 
>>to push buttons to indicate whether they'd seen the pictures earlier. 
>>Those in a positive mood had a far greater ability to recognize members 
>>of another race, while their ability to recognize members of their own 
>>race stayed the same.
>>The researchers conclude that positive emotions bring with them a 
>>"broadening effect" that helps people see a bigger, broader picture of 
>>the world around them.
>>Positive Emotion and Psychophysiology Laboratory 
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