On Nova this week, some new research in neuroscience was discussed. Researchers believe they have found parts of the brain that serve the function of interpreting the actions and feelings of others, causing an observer to feel as if he or she is doing and feeling what the person being observed is doing and feeling. The host said that this part of the brain may be where empathy comes from. I have to disagree.
Empathy isn't just feeling what another person is feeling, but also caring about what that person is feeling. When a person is feeling down, and friendss around him or her get annoyed because "you're bringing me down," the friends may well be feeling what the depressed person is feeling, but yelling at someone to cheer up is not a way of expressing what most people would consider "empathy." Selfishly wanting someone else's mood to change so they will no longer affect your own mood is not empathic, it is selfish.
Feeling another's feelings isn't enough, in and of itself, to qualify.