We all know people on both sides of the empathy spectrum—the friend who rushes over when you’re sad, versus the boss who makes you stay late the night your kid has the lead in the school play. Interestingly, the biology of empathy stems from a phenomenon involving “mirror neurons” in a person’s brain. Mirror neurons are at work when someone does something and you reflect the action back unconsciously—like a contagious yawn, or crossing your arms without realizing someone else did it first. These neurons don’t just fire in response to behaviors tough. They also fire in response to emotions, which is the reason you feel sad when you see someone else cry, or wince when you see someone in pain. Every person’s brain is different of course—and has a unique neuron system in a part of the brain called the insula. This is why emotional responses like empathy can be so different from one person to the next.
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