• Empathy


Systematic reasoning is a lot better than intuition for recognizing emotions in others, said a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

A person is better off relying on careful reasoning when he sizes up another person. Relying on empathy has its problems. 

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Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, or the capacity to place oneself in another's position.

"Cultivating successful personal and professional relationships requires the ability to accurately infer the feelings of others -- that is, to be empathically accurate." said Jennifer Lerner, PhD, of Harvard University, a co-author of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Some are better at this than others, a difference that may be explained in part by mode of thought. Until now, however, little was known about which mode of thought, intuitive versus systematic, offers better accuracy in perceiving another's feelings."

Individuals process information and make decisions in different ways, according to Lerner. Some choose to follow their instincts and go with what feels right to them (or being intuitive), while others plan carefully and analyze the information available to them before deciding (or being systematic).

Lerner and her co-author, Christine Ma-Kellams, PhD, of the University of La Verne, conducted four studies involving over 900 participants to examine the relationship between the two modes of thought and empathetic accuracy.

The first determined that most people believe intuition is a better guide than systematic thinking to accurately infer another's thoughts and feelings. The other three studies found the opposite is true.

"Importantly, three out of the four studies presented here relied on actual professionals and managers. This sample represents a highly relevant group for which to test empathic accuracy, given the importance of empathic accuracy for a host of workplace outcomes, including negotiations, worker satisfaction and workplace performance," said Ma-Kellams.

"The many settings in which the value of intuition is extolled -- for example a job interview -- may need to be reassessed with a more nuanced perspective."

These findings are important because they show that commonly held assumptions about what makes someone a good emotional mind reader may be wrong. 

The American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C. is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States.