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“COGNITIVE SECRET: Emotion determines the meaning of everything— if we’re not feeling, we’re not conscious.
STORY SECRET: All story is emotion based— if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading.”
–Cron, Lisa (2012-07-10). Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Kindle Locations 36-37). Ten Speed Press. Kindle Edition.
In the last article, I briefly mentioned the concept of mirroring which has been a hot topic in neuroscience for the last two decades. The much debated notion is neurons fire both when an animal acts and when another observes the same action performed, providing the neural basis of the capacity for emotions such as empathy. Empathy, in turn, is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being.
Empathy, however, is not sympathy. If you’re not sure of the difference, please take a moment to watch this wonderfully articulated short video taken from research professor Dr. Brené Brown:
Sympathy, simply put, is indicative of the old saying “I feel for you, but I can’t quite reach you.” It disconnects whereas empathy draws us in and makes us feel what characters are feeling. Knowing how to utilize empathy effectively, as we will see later on, can distance us from the a character and actually draw us closer and align our emotions to an accomplice to murder instead.
Before delving further into empathy itself, it’s important to note that there are seven universal basic emotions:
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