Books, film, and television have usually taken a black-and-white approach when it comes to characters’ personality traits, with good and bad, and nice and mean. Characters are portrayed in a dark or good light to easily generate either feelings of empathy or apathy from us. However, if the human brain is hardwired to be kind, according to Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, then why are some of us kind and unkind?
In Fig. 1’s webisode “We Are Built To Be Kind,” the University of California’s YouTube series, Keltner emphasizes how Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man illustrates compassion is deeply ingrained in our psyche, specifically in our nervous system. Darwin argued sympathy is our strongest instinct, and sometimes is stronger than self-interest, which would spread through natural selection. “Communities that have the most sympathetic members will flourish and raise the greatest number of offspring,” says Keltner in the video.
Acquiring sympathy is actually an intrinsic component of our being. When we feel physical pain a part of our brain lights up. The same happens when we see someone in physical pain. It’s as if we’re hardwired to have the imagine ourselves experiencing what others go through, which is otherwise known as empathy. “It engages the frontal lobes, these newer regions of the cortex that are involved in more complex symbolic processes like language and imagining the future,” Keltner said.
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