1. SSS
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    SSS New Member

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    Why do characters care?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SSS, Dec 16, 2015.

    There are some fundamental questions I need answers too in regards to how a character/person functions. Currently I'm running off the id (instinct you're born with), super-ego (internalized parent), and ego (the result of the conflict between id, and super ego; or the one who makes the decisions)model; however i'm struggling to figure out which part of the mind is responsible for caring about another person.

    Do we care only for those who increase our chances of survival? Or for those that provide a chance for us to pass on our genetic code?

    Why would I feel sadness if someone I was close to died? Why would i feel anger if someone i was close to got hurt?

    Some would probably answer "empathy", in which case i'd ask : where does empathy come from? is it in-built? or is it learned? What part of the mind is responsible, and how does it come to be?
     
  2. misteralcala
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    misteralcala Member

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    We are social creatures. We try to identify and latch on to qualities in others that we ourselves possess. "Empathy" is our ability to "identify with" others. Once we see ourselves as similar, it becomes easier to have an emotional investment. This emotional investment means that the state of our well-being is somewhat tied to theirs, allowing us to share in their joys and sorrows - though usually to a lesser extent, depending on the strength and intimacy of the emotional connection to that person.
     
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  3. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    People used to gather in groups to defend themselves from predators. Empathy is the instinct to work as a whole and preserve the integrity of the group.
     
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  4. SSS
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    SSS New Member

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    So in a sense (if i'm following you accurately), we see others as ourselves through empathy, and our feeling of another experiencing pain/joy is reflected in us because we relate. On the other hand; if we do not see others as ourselves we feel nothing for them? If so, good answer. This actually really lines up with a documentary i recently saw where they interviewed a psychopath; he explained how he was able to do the horrible things he did to other people because he "dehumanized" them in his mind.

    Now i'm wondering is it possible to empathize with people without seeing them as yourself (putting yourself in their shoes in other words)?
     
  5. misteralcala
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    misteralcala Member

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    Even if we don't have much in common with people from different cultures, we can identify with similar struggles, situations and qualities that we may share as fellow human beings. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns, especially human faces. How many inanimate objects (like wall outlets and car grills) seem to have "eyes, a nose and a mouth"? As many as possible. It's just how we are.
     
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  6. SSS
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    SSS New Member

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    This also lines up pretty well; so in a sense; we instinctively care for others because it improves our own circumstance? What i'm asking is, do we only care for others to ultimately preserve ourselves?

    An interesting sidenote : If it is instinctual for us to be empathic it implies that people who don't feel empathy are born without the ability to empathize. However, from what i've read people who are unable to empathize (psychopaths) often come from backgrounds where they weren't treated to any empathy from adults and so never picked it up by example. Or is it not that their empathy is missing, but that it has been stunted by the way they were nurtured? In which case the origins of empathy could still be instinctual but also not very dominant in the mind of the apathetic individual.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
  7. misteralcala
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    misteralcala Member

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    Soldiers have to "dehumanize" people all the time, in order to be able to kill them. That is a big part of military training - being able to overcome the hesitation that comes with killing another person that is somebody's son, husband, father and brother and being able to deal with the emotional consequences of taking those lives. Psychopaths are unable to empathize with others, which is why they are capable of such betrayals and seemingly inhuman acts of cruelty.
     
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  8. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    Psychopaths who come from backgrounds with no empathy from adults don't form a symbiotic relationship with the rest of humanity. They don't see other people as beneficial to themselves.
     
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  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is just the nature/nurture debate, right?

    So... probably a combination? We're born with certain potentials, and our environment encourages some, discourages others.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try Googling "theory of mind." The fact that others have different knowledge from oneself is not something inborn--it's learned in the toddler years. Learning that fact is a step toward developing empathy.

    As for why we care and why we have empathy, I assume that it was useful for survival, on an evolutionary scale. So there isn't necessarily any logical reason for it NOW--the wiring was probably in place before we were even recognizable as Homo sapiens.
     
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  11. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you should cut the psychobabble, which is basically meaningless theories, and ask yourself the question, "why do I care about others?" Your characters are a reflection of your world view.
     
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  12. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Simple. Because we are human!
     
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  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    “Just passing through.”/“Caught me in an especially good mood today.”/“You have something that belongs to me.”/“What kind of a heartless prick do you think I am?”/“No one's beating up [character they came for]/[villain] but me!” - Said by every sour, selfish, cynical character everywhere that now has to justify to everyone else why he/she suddenly is giving a rat's ass about other people.

    But seriously:

    Deep down, we're humans. We kind of, sort of care about each other to a certain extent. Even if the only reason we care about another human being is because they were nice to us. It's our basic, innate survival instincts to want to get along, to want to help others even when that other is only our closest family and friends.

    Or as @MilesTro said, we're humans. Whether we give a shit about everyone or just a selected few individuals, we do give a shit.
     
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  14. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Empathy is ingrained in us, but it needs to be nurtured in order to get past the primitive "I'll help you just so I can survive" point. Yes, we are social creatures, but when you learn from a young age that others will only hurt you, it distorts your perspective on many levels. This is the nature vs. nurture debate. Where's the turning point between what we instinctively feel/know and what we learn to feel/know?
     
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  15. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Try researching mirror neurons as well.
     
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  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My question becomes: Why does this matter to the creation of a character? I drink water because my body needs water to function. I don't need to know how the water is actually used, the chemical processes in which it takes place, when it serves as vehicle or as catalyst. I just know that I need it, and that's all that matters. People care for one another because they do. We're social creatures as a species. We function in groups. Groups need certain behavioral paradigms in order for the members to function with one another. Knowing what part of the brain or the mind is responsible for this is of no matter. I know that the Broca's area, the Wernicke's area and the Angular Gyrus are where language come from in the human brain. My knowledge of this neither improves nor hinders (were I not to know it) my capacity for language.
     
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  17. SSS
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    Understanding how a character comes to care for another will allow me to show how a character comes to care for another with more accuracy. I'll understand the trigger for a characters growth into one more caring person, or less so. I'll be able transition a psychopath to an altruist with greater believability; vice versa, or anywhere in between. In another way, understanding empathy could help by getting your audience to empathize with certain characters in your stories.

    On another note :

    I think i've pretty much cracked the case on this one with everyone's help and some internet searching. Basically empathy is the result of both nature, and nurture. We're all born with the capacity to feel empathy ,via mirror neurons, to varying degrees due to survival needs such as : caring for our young(genetic legacy), learning from other's mistakes/successes, and generally having better survival when working as a group etc ; but it can't be applied to others without an understanding of "theory of mind". Without theory of mind, empathy just manifests as a mirror of the feeling the other person is feeling. So if someone gets hurt, you might feel it, but there will be no urge to help them unless combined with the nurture side of things (theory of mind). Interestingly though; you can still have empathy even if the instinctual side is lacking just through understanding theory of mind; you just won't feel it. When someone dehumanizes another they are basically ceasing to imprint theory of mind on that particular individual/group. It is why some can kill bugs without caring, yet at the same time care about people; whereas others do care about insects/bugs as if they were people and can't bring themselves to kill them. Empathy that is feeling/nature based is referred to as "emotional/affective empathy"; and empathy that is understanding/nurture based is referred to as "cognitive empathy/theory of mind".

    The reason psychopaths often come from backgrounds of abandonment is probably because they don't learn cognitive empathy, through the empathy/explanation of a parent figure, until a later age, or don't learn it at all; by which point it isn't ingrained in them as a normal thought pattern. This likely comes out as the "empathy switch" that some psychopaths are reported to have; where they can choose to feel, or not. Something else i found interesting was that, as mentioned in an above post, soldiers are often trained to dehumanize people so they can kill them with greater ease; but this for some, despite the training, leaves them mentally scarred after killing someone. Those who ended up mentally scarred were probably the people with a higher capacity for emotional empathy; or those who didn't internalize the training.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
  18. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think we were writing believable characters along time before the current theories of mind. You need to understand people, not a psychological theory that is wobbly and an allegory to start with.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I offered the "theory of mind" stuff, but I think that the word "accuracy" doesn't really belong with a discussion of human motivations and behavior. I think that you're much better off understanding your characters by using YOUR empathy, than by studying the phenomenon of empathy.
     

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