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Empathy: A Network Perspective
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Futurehealth Plenary Talk by Sigfried Othmer. The emergence of altruism, a puzzle to evolutionary biology, can be understood as a natural concomitant of the emergence of empathy.

The latter in turn can be understood in the language of networks. By analogy to the mapping of our external sensory environment into our inner experience through dynamical representations in our neuronal networks, the emotional experience of the other can be brought into our own emotional awareness. The neurophysiological mechanisms of emotional responding are trainable through neurofeedback, with obvious implications for criminality and the personality disorders in particular, and for disorders of attachment in general.

The problem comes from defining self-interest too narrowly. The network model of affect regulation allows for an organic description that breaks the bounds of the self and includes the other as part of our own complete neurophysiological makeup. This property of networks has an existence which is not entirely contingent on the other, for indeed it survives the departure or loss of the other.

This topic takes us back to the original objective Joe Kamiya pursued in his early studies with alpha wave activity: the neurophysiological correlates of man acting as a social being. Strange that more emphasis has not been placed on the study of man in relationship from the neurophysiological perspective.

Neurofeedback, in its most ground-breaking applications, can be seen as establishing the neurophysiological basis for the emergence of empathy and of altruism. Successful training will see it emerge quite naturally, even without invocation of psychodynamic therapies. This supports the view that empathy is part of our essential makeup and not an artifact of upbringing or of culture. It is, rather, the absence of empathy that requires a causal explanation.

Neurofeedback, in its application to the domain of affect regulation, can be seen as organizing the person?s relationship to self, and the awareness of hitherto unavailable aspects of the self. Concomitant with the emergence of a more wholesome self comes a fuller capacity for relationship. This is a concurrent process, not a sequential one. The discovery of self occurs in concert with the discovery of the other, which is also the case when affect regulation occurs through normal early-childhood developmental processes.

Because neurofeedback can readily be done without explicit focus on character flaws, it represents an ideal approach to issues of affect regulation in which the person may not perceive or acknowledge a shortcoming. This has particular implications for criminality, addictions, and the characterological disorders. None of these can be fully understood absent a model of attachment. The network model is proposed as a natural way to represent the emergence of the capacity for attachment.

Recent developments in neurofeedback have made particular strides in the management of disorders of attachment. An accompanying model is therefore of interest.

 


Author: Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D.

Siegfried Othmer has been active in neurofeedback for more than twenty years, through instrumentation development, clinical research, and the conduct of professional training courses.

Other Products by Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D.

1) Simplicity and Complexity in Neurofeedback
2) Theoretical Models Underlying Neurofeedback
3) The Self-Regulation Regime: Conceptual and Practical Reunification of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback
4) Pain and Neurofeedback
5) Paradoxes in Neurofeedback and Biofeedback
6) Fertile Domain of Targeted Training

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MP3   $7.00