Empathy & genetics

Q: How strong is the genetic neural connection related to empathy? Do you see this as a Darwinian result of more than ten thousand years of organized warfare? Also, if there is a strong genetic component to the neural correlates of empathy, do you see those with an impediment to the experience of empathy as particularly challenged to be able to develop feelings of compassion and loving kindness. Mary Douglas developed a theory based on group and grid where the group dimension had individualism at one end and communitarian sympathies at the other. Do you think this facet of human behavior is related to empathy (or the lack thereof)?

A: Emotional intelligence abilities are largely learned and learnable, though there is certainly a generic component. So with empathy, I would assume that this core talent for rapport and cooperation has been favored in evolution – far more for its power in strengthening bonds in families and groups than in warfare over the several hundred thousand years of human evolution.  We also know that practicing lovingkindness enhances the functioning of the underlying brain  circuits, though I have yet to see data on empathy itself. And people in collectivist cultures, where the self is identified with a core group like your family or clan, seem to be especially attuned, compared to those from individualist cultures.