Empathy is commonly defined as “putting yourself in another person’s shoes” or “feeling the emotional states of others.” It’s a critical social tool that creates social bridges by promoting shared experiences and producing compassionate behavior.
But can empathy be learned? And can travel help facilitate this learning?
The answer is complicated. “Research has shown that empathy is not simply inborn, but can actually be taught,” writes psychotherapist F. Diane Barth in Psychology Today. While past research has indicated that empathy is an unteachable trait, newer research—including a 2017 Harvard study—suggests that the “neurobiologically based competency” of empathy is mutable and can be taught under the right circumstances.