On Empathy

Getting lost in a novel means you’re more empathetic from The Passive Voice. Speaking of novels, Reading Boosts Empathy and Reduces Discomfort With Uncertainty from the Virginia Sun and It’s Science! Novels Will Make You A Better, More Empathetic Designer from Co.Design. So it must be true. If there’s a problem that boys aren’t reading as much fiction as girls are, this would have to be it.

How, exactly, are writers eliciting empathy in readers? Is it always a good thing? Over at Edit Torrent, ‘Jenny and I got into a discussion once about how so many historical novels use “helping orphans” as a shorthand technique to supposedly make a jerky hero sympathetic. …”doing nice things to poor benighted orphans” isn’t necessarily going to make him sympathetic. (And why is sympathy the reaction we want anyway? I do think “reader involvement” might more important, and allows for characters who are more or less than sympathetic.)’

Movie Friday: Empathy Boosters from Freethought Blogs introduces a short video which might be a good thing to show to kids in a discussion about bullying.

AIDS Impairs The Ability To Recognise Emotions In Others from Medical News Today. At first I sucked inward, realising that even if this is the case, and not simply a bad study (I have no idea because I haven’t studied the study) that people living with AIDS might be further marginalised by such findings. Then I wondered if in fact ‘lack of empathy’ might sometimes be an autoimmune condition. Richard Dawkins argues a strong case in The Selfish Gene that humans have evolved to live in groups, and empathy plays a big part of that, so anyone who misses out on the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes must therefore be an evolutionary oddity. The recent American school shootings spring to mind. Another question: If food intolerances lead to other autoimmune conditions, might modern diets explain lack of empathy also?

Pajiba: The Fall Of Orson Scott Card: Democracy is empathy. It is being able to see the rest of society as people just like you are, whether they agree with you or not. It is about not ruling at the barrel of a gun, but explaining to others the way you feel, bringing them around by letting them inside. By getting them to feel what you feel, which is the very definition of empathy. There are those who think that the failure of the world to agree with them, and their embrace of violence as a solution, somehow makes them the strong ones and the world the weak ones. But violence is such an easy solution, the emotional coward’s way out of actually dealing with the existence of those who disagree as legitimate equals.

Empathy! How the fudge does it work? from Shakesville is a scary reminder that the people we elect to government may not actually be capable of empathy. Hang on, doesn’t that make them sociopaths?

Actually, I don’t have straight the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. Are You A Psychopath? from The Good Men Project links to an interview with the author of The Wisdom Of Psychopaths, which I have yet to listen to. Anyway, I’m pretty sure both conditions concern lack of capacity for empathy.

Literature’s Ten Most Disturbing Sociopaths from Lit Reactor. (What’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? I’ve heard it summarised as ‘A psychopath is a sociopath with goals’ but I get a hunch that this is too neat.)

Empathy and Disgust Do Battle In The Brain from Scientific American talks about some major theories about empathy in humans, pointing out that empathy may not work for a creature such as a rat, which is likely to carry dangerous diseases.

How could we engineer humans to have more empathy? from io9

The Good Men Project asks if women are really more compassionate than men. (Cliffs Notes version: No, women just have different expressions of compassion.)

Sometimes, learning to be empathic is hard from Jose Baldaia

Larry Ferlazzo gathers the best sites for Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes

We Need To Talk About Kevin’s Lack Of Empathy from The Guardian

Empathy as a Choice from Scientific American, and Part 2.

Assumptions and Autism: My child has empathy, from Blog Her

Paul Bloom, author of the new book Just Babies, argues that empathy causes nations to make disastrous choices from The Dish

When do medical students lose their empathy? from KevinMD

The Racial Empathy Gap from PS

Neurological Basis for Lack of Empathy in Psychopaths from Science Daily

Brain Surgery To Remove Amygdala Leads To Woman’s ‘Hyper Empathy’ from Huffington Post


Sympathy is a social construct, from The Dish

This Short Cartoon Will Show You the Power of Empathy Versus Sympathy and Make You a Better Person according to Fail Blog