"Breithaupt, who directs the Experimental Humanities Lab at Indiana University, argues that empathy is a morally ambiguous capacity, one that can lead us astray if we don't understand its many sides.
"Empathy is a riddle," Breithaupt says. While it can enrich our lives, Breithaupt says our ability to identify with others' feelings can also fuel polarization, spark violence and motivate dysfunctional behavior in relationships, like helicopter parenting.
Breithaupt, who reviews the cultural and scientific history of empathy in his book, explains that empathy is a relatively new concept. The term only emerged in 1909, when it was translated from a German conception of "feeling yourself into a work of art," he says. In the past 40 years, it has risen to prominence as evolutionary biologists started to explore its role in shaping the human brain. Since then, it's become a core psychological concept, and part of what biologists think makes us distinctly human."