June 13, 2011

The Empathy Gene: are we born good or evil?

After posting about 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes', I planned on posting the next test measuring the empathy quotient. So you know how it goes when a topic is on your mind. You start seeing 'empathy' articles everywhere as if they were magically appearing out of thin air. I prefer thinking they instantly appeared at my command because it's unsettling to admit that the articles were always there, I just didn’t notice them. With my attention focused on empathy, I found several videos that were intriguing. 
“Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.” ~Wikipedia link

Take the test:
 Empathy Quotient Test

We assume anyone can put themselves in someone else's shoes, and not just mentally. Emotionally.  Really feeling deep down to the soles of their labile socks, precisely how the other person feels. Now we're learning that empathy may depend on a hormone called oxytocin. When the oxytocin is flowing, people feel empathetic, connected and bonded to other people. When you are empathetic, you are moral. A moral nature leads to being civilized because you know what's right and what's wrong without a list of rules, guidelines, and structures enforcing boundaries for your morally corrupt hormonal system. 

But Dr. Zak also said in his talk that high-stress limits the production of oxytocin which diminishes the ability to empathize which further diminishes our capacity to trust, bond and build cities and there ya go. Western civilization crumbles from oxytocin deficits. 

I’m one of those ocytocin-rich empathizers, bonding with friends and trusting……….most people. I used to think this was a learned behavior or out-and-out naiveté, but now…well, maybe it’s in my blood. 

Oh by the way, Dr. Zak says in the video below that about 5% of human beings have an oxytocin dysregulation, traits of sociopathy, lack of reciprocity and trust. He calls 'em: Bastards. He also says empathy is in our genes. And empathy propitiates moral behavior so truly, morality is in the blood. Which means that, theoretically, psychopaths could be identified with a blood test. 

Add that blood test to a marriage license, please! 

Hugs all,


  1. This could get interesting. Instead of saying the devil made me do it, now they can say my body made me do it. Scored average on empathy. But I figure I have come a long ways since when I started counseling I was almost completely dissociated from all emotion. Reconnecting is an on going process.
    Thanks for sharing an interesting test and information.

  2. Oh whew! at least I passed this one with flying colours :) tee hee! is there a pass or fail?

    But now surprise. Empathy is high on my agenda!

    Love this. Thanks.

  3. Hi Ruth!

    While I'm an empathy Geiger counter (or so people have told me, lol) that didn't necessarily mean my behavior was healthy. What has helped a lot is learning how to have 'healthy boundaries' without stopping myself from empathizing with other people's feelings.

    People who are high on empathy might build thick walls around themselves and stop feeling, just because they don't know how to maintain their own integrity. Enmeshment can be a serious problem with high-oxytocin-producing empaths.

    I also, like other people, 'numbed' myself after my traumatic divorce.

    Slowly (and more so lately) those frozen feelings are thawing and this time, it's not frightening to let myself be vulnerable.

    We can learn how to protect ourselves, continue feeling, and restore our natural 'caring' personality.

    Thanks for your comment!


  4. No pass or fail, Louise! Wait, that's not true. You and I know a couple of guys who failed Empathy 101. Aren't those the rat bastards who initiated our cyber-friendship? Finding each other on the Internet after NOT being empathized with to the point, we typed Narcissist and Psychopath in search engines?

    Guess some good things really do happen to nice people.

    Just thought I'd tell you that the Canadian chokecherry named after you, is absolutely beautiful this year. I'll take a pic of Ellie and post it.


  5. Very interesting this oxytocin theory is. I guess it is a theory? What a strange world it is today isn't it?

    A little off subject, but thought I'd share with you that the teaching hospital nearby is doing a research study right now using a nasal spray of this hormone (oxytocin) to treat the social problems that patients with schizophrenia have. They believe it might make people want to be sociable. At least they are finally beginning to study an actual treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic use was a surprising accident during experimental trials for medicines to treat, (I think) allergies. The doctors just happened to notice that the men with schizophrenia began showing less symptoms.

    Back to the subject of N's, I can see this replacing mace on women's key chains. I would have needed at least one bottle per day! It could also be used as air-freshener.

  6. Wow, Dogkisses!! Thank you so very much for telling me about this study! New research on the brain and our body chemistry and our genetic make-up is absolutely mind-blowing. (to use a phrase from my high school days when we thought we could 'love' anyone into mental health and sanity).

    Mental illness is part of my children's genetic code since their father's family has a history of schizophrenia. So I've kept an ear out for any information about treating this illness...it's gotten progressively worse for my X-brother-in-law who is an old man now. Hopefully, your son has a better future and who knows? Maybe even cure now that we know more about schizophrenia than we did in the 1960's.

    "Back to the subject of N's, I can see this replacing mace on women's key chains. I would have needed at least one bottle per day! It could also be used as air-freshener."

    hahaha!!!!! O yes! Before every stockholder and CEO business meeting, someone should dowse the room in oxytocin. LOL

    Big hugs,

  7. http://www.newsweek.com/2010/02/25/the-bonding-hormone-that-might-cure-autism.html

    If you google autism + oxytocin there are several articles that suggest oxytocin might be of great help to children who suffer from autism.

    Years ago my husband once said that animals are not self-aware and because they do not perceive themselves as unique individuals, separate from any other, they do not have emotions. And because animals have no sense of self, what we (he said humans, but he meant me) perceive as emotions are nothing more than instincts. (For example, for an animal to grieve a loss they would first have to have a sense of self.)

    To say the least I objected to this theory but he stuck to his guns; animals are instinct-driven and I was anthropomorphizing.

    When he was diagnosed with NPD, I remembered this conversation- and a gazillion others, just as inexplicable- and realized that what it was really about was his lack of empathy.

  8. Thank you so much, anon! Fascinating article to read. We're learning so much about autism which will hopefully offer some 'relief' to caretakers, too. I have great sympathy for families who care for children with autism (I am not referring to Aspergers which is high-functioning).

    Your husband sounds like a putz.



  9. Just stumbled across your website and am so enjoying it! These tests are very interesting. I just ended a marriage with a narc who was also psychotic (due to drug use) for almost a year.

    I was surprised how little confidence I had in reading the eyes (had an average score of 25) and how I questioned myself on the empathy test. Whereas a decade ago I would have thought "Oh, sure I always know/can figure what someone wants to talk about!" now I question that ability after making my ex "miserable" and "frustrated" all the time.

    Thanks for this blog. I need a resource like this as my recovery has barely begun, and I feel anxious all the flippin time.

  10. Hi Anonymous!

    Sounds like you're just starting to restore your sense of self---your ability to trust your own perceptions. The N-relationship erodes our confidence "in ourselves" because the narcissist twists things around to such a degree, we aren't sure who to trust. Unfortunately, we give the N the 'benefit of our doubt'.

    As time goes on (you might want to read my Three Stages of Healing post linked on the right sidebar), our ability to trust ourselves returns. Our self-worth increases, our confidence grows. It may take longer than we like, though......

    Good luck to you (and bravo for taking charge of your life and reaching out for help!


  11. could you share your thoughts re another site re the paradigm dynamics with narcissists and empaths stating is not re oxytocin ( " a narcissist and empath walk into a bar") thanks donna

    1. Hello Donna,

      Could you leave a link to the site you are referencing?



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