Want to Truly Understand People? First Get to Know Yourself

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Nov 15, 2017

Want to Truly Understand People? First Get to Know Yourself

Research suggests empathy begins by looking inward

Get to know yourself

Understanding other people is never easy, but according to new research published in the journal Cognitive Enhancement, researchers believe there’s a link between how well we know ourselves and how we understand others.

In the study, led by Dr Anne Böckler, 141 participants took part in a three-month “contemplative training course”, a scheme to understand different aspects of their personalities. Each person took a “Theory of Mind” test, which involved watching video clips of people telling autobiographical stories, before answering a questionnaire about the storytellers’ intentions.

Then, for the next three months, they practised a specific kind of meditation, during which they were asked to objectively observe their thoughts, and then classify their answers into the perspectives of “me or other”, “past or future” and “positive or negative”. In addition, they attended training sessions in which participants paired up and took turns being a speaker and a listener. The speaker described an event of the day from the selected perspectives, and the listener would guess “who” was talking.

After three months, they revisited the “Theory of Mind” test. Results revealed a correlation between test improvements and the number of personalities identified in their partner, suggesting the better we know ourselves, the better we are at reading others.

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