Being a HSP is often associated with being more empathic but is it true and if so, what does this mean for HSPs?
What is empathy?
According to the definition from Collins Dictionary "Empathy is the ability to share another person's feelings and emotions as if they were your own."(https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/empathy)
Over the last 20+ years, researchers have been studying HSPs through questionnaires and psychology tests. Through these questionnaires, researchers have associated empathy with HSPs through statements such as:
"other people's moods affect me"
"When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable"
However, these psychology tests can never be 100% accurate and so researchers have looked at different ways to reinforce their findings on HSPs. One of these ways has been to use EEG which records the brains activity. In 2022, Ishikam, Y and Tanaka, H looked at using such a device to investigate emotional contagion and mirror system activity in HSPs - both are ways that demonstrate empathy.
The participants of the study watched a video of a person lifting a cup and looked at pictures of sad, neutral and happy faces. The video was to measure the mirror system activity - where a person physically or mentally copies another person. The second one measured the alpha waves when the participant looked at different facial expressions.
The results showed that people who were on the higher end of the scales of being HSP showed greater mirror system activity and were mentally copying the action. They also showed that when faced with the happy face, those who were higher on the HSP scale had lower alpha wave activity which they inferred meant the participants were more relaxed and happy when looking at the image.
You can read the full research here https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/ijae/advpub/0/advpub_IJAE-D-22-00017/_pdf/-char/ja
What does this mean?
It shows that the HSP brain works differently to those who are lower on the HSP scale. It also shows that the initial research conducted through questionnaires and psychological tests is now being confirmed through brain science and there seems to be more evidence that HSPs are indeed more empathic.
What are the benefits?
This research and others similar in nature shows that HSPs have greater scope for empathy. It was already accepted that HSPs feel deeply but this research shows how much other people and situations affect HSPs too.
The benefits mean that HSPs have a deep understanding of others and they unconsciously (or maybe more consciously too) take on other people's emotions and have greater appreciation for what other people are going through. This can lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships, collaborations, projects - there is no limit to how HSPs can benefit situations where people come together.
What are the drawbacks?
As with everything, there are 2 sides. The flip side to this depth is that sometimes HSPs will take on too much of someone else / other people and loose themselves in the process. This is why boundaries for HSPs are so important. Raising awareness around what's yours and what's not yours can support HSPs to have the capacity to support others when needed whilst also ensuring they're allowing themselves to ground themselves in who they really are.
I would love to hear your experiences with empathy as a HSP - please reach out and let me know and if you're looking to create better boundaries for yourself, take a look at the page 'work with Kate'.
Aron, Elaine - https://hsperson.com/test/
Collins Dictionary: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/empathy
Ishikami, Y., & Tanaka, H. (2022). Emotional Contagion and Mirror System Activity in the Highly Sensitive Person. In International Symposium on Affective Science and Engineering ISASE2022 (pp. 1-4). Japan Society of Kansei Engineering: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/ijae/advpub/0/advpub_IJAE-D-22-00017/_pdf/-char/ja