Lecture title: "Flexible Social Cognition as a Proactive Empathy Regulation Strategy"
Abstract: Lay opinions of empathy surround its benefits, motivating pro-social behavior, promoting human connection, and relieving human suffering. However, empathy appears a curse of contradictions: useful for the target, but harmful to the perceiver given the experience of empathy is unpleasant. Empathy has been linked to burnout in health care professionals, despite the fact that it is rewarded during recruitment and training. Urban legends often tell of a hidden curriculum in medical training, where students are taught how to regulate empathic responses. Here, I discuss the regulation of empathy in medical professionals via flexible social cognition. I present behavioral evidence linking empathy, mentalizing processes and burnout in health care professions, as well as causal evidence that the social context can determine whether empathy impacts behavior. I use this evidence to argue that flexible social cognition theory predicts when empathy relieves, and renders human suffering.
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