BUFFALO, N.Y. – Empathy is among humanity’s defining characteristics. Understanding another person’s plight can inspire gentle emotions and encourage nurturing behaviors.
Yet under certain circumstances, feelings of warmth, tenderness and sympathy can in fact predict aggressive behaviors, according to a recent study by two University at Buffalo researchers.
That an expression of kindness might be manifest as a punch in the nose can leave observers scratching their heads.
Tag Archives | Empathy
Can there be righteousness without compassion?
Nozomi Hayase writes at Common Dreams:
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It is 3 am. Something in me is unsettled and I cannot sleep. Earlier today, the Israeli military intensified its assault on Gaza Strip as a kind of collective punishment of the Palestinians; those vulnerable and marginalized who have been locked up and denied their humanity. After more than 440 air strikes since the beginning of the week, I saw photos of injured and dead men, women and children by the dozens.
I hear a man walking on the street outside my window shouting loudly; “you are a liar, a liar”. In this explosion of anger, I feel his pain. Life does not have to be this way. We can live with dignity and treat each other with respect and kindness. We can do much better.
When we see suffering of others, it upsets and saddens and keeps many of us awake at night.
A former English professor tackles the ongoing debate regarding “trigger warnings” and their place in academia:
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…it seems political correctness is being replaced by a new trend—one that might be called “empathetic correctness.”
While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.
In the foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death, his iconoclastic jeremiad on entertainment culture, Neil Postman invokes George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In noting the contrast between their two dystopian visions of the future, Postman notes,
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression.
Should this procedure be made mandatory? Via the Huffington Post:
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A woman developed “hyper empathy” after having a part of her brain called the amygdala removed in an effort to treat her severe epilepsy, according to a report of her case.
Doctors removed parts of her temporal lobe, including the amygdala. The surgery is a common treatment for people with severe forms of temporal lobe epilepsy.
After the surgery, the woman reported a “new, spectacular emotional arousal,” that has persisted for 13 years to this date. Her empathy seemed to transcend her body — the woman reported feeling physical effects along with her emotions, such as a “spin at the heart” when experiencing empathic sadness or anger. She reported these feelings when seeing people on TV, meeting people in person, or reading about characters in novels.
She also described an increased ability to decode others’ mental states, including their emotions.
Robert D. Stolorow writing in Psychology Today:
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In my work over the last two decades attempting to grasp the nature of emotional trauma (http://www.psychoanalysisarena.com/trauma-and-human-existence-9780881634679, http://www.routledgementalhealth.com/world-affectivity-trauma-9780415893442), I have shown that its essence lies in the shattering of what I call the absolutisms of everyday life—the system of illusory beliefs that allow us to function in the world, experienced as stable, predictable, and safe. Such shattering is a massive loss of innocence exposing the inescapable contingency of our existence on a universe that is unstable and unpredictable and in which no safety or continuity of being can be assured. Emotional trauma brings us face to face with our existential vulnerability and with death and loss as possibilities that define our existence and that loom as constant threats.
I describe our era as an Age of Trauma because the tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides—by global diminution of natural resources, by global warming, by global nuclear proliferation, by global terrorism, and by global economic collapse.
There’s an interesting article at Medical News Today about the phenomenon of soldiers become emotionally attached to the robots they use in combat.
It’s becoming more common to have robots sub in for humans to do dirty or sometimes dangerous work. But researchers are finding that in some cases, people have started to treat robots like pets, friends, or even as an extension of themselves. That raises the question, if a soldier attaches human or animal-like characteristics to a field robot, can it affect how they use the robot? What if they “care” too much about the robot to send it into a dangerous situation?
This video shows an experiment in which participants are asked to switch off a robot and thereby killing it. The robot begs for its live and we measured how long the participants hesitated. The perception of life largely depends on the observation of intelligent behavior. Even abstract geometrical shapes that move on a computer screen are being perceived as being alive… in particular if they change their trajectory nonlinearly or if they seem to interact with their environments. The robot's intelligence had a strong effect on the users’ hesitation to switch it off, in particular if the robot acted agreeable. Participants hesitated almost three times as long to switch off an intelligent and agreeable robot (34.5 seconds) compared to an unintelligent and non-agreeable robot (11.8 seconds).
Via the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, J. Hughes on the use of new technologies in genetics and neurology to suppress vice and accelerate spiritual progress:
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The Buddhist tradition recognizes that we are not all born with equal propensities to wisdom or moral behavior, and that Enlightenment is only possible for the very few […] A fully virtuous life is biologically impossible for most people. But, given the rapid advance of neurotechnologies, “if these cognitive shortcomings could be compensated for, or balanced, through the use of safe and voluntary enhancement techniques, then it would be morally desirable to do so.” If specific, consistent moral behavioral orientations – truthfulness, compassion and so on – can be identified, and our likelihood of manifesting them is strongly influenced by inherited genetic predispositions or persistent neurochemistry, then it might be possible to use future neurotechnologies to systematically make ourselves more truthful or compassionate.
We know that the battle to prove one is human online is getting more difficult, sort of ‘reverse Turing Tests‘ as CAPTCHAs and Re-CAPTCHAs become more and more difficult to solve. And though both U.S. presidential candidates should have been required to take a Voight-Kampff test at the recent debate, our technology isn’t quite there yet. However, empathy (a major element of the fictional Blade Runner test to out androids) is being introduced to not only confuse SPAM bots on a new Civil Rights CAPTCHA, but possibly also calculating psychopaths, trolls and other despicable human(ish) beings.
Via Ryan Singel at WIRED’s Threat Level:
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A human rights group is introducing a new take on CAPTCHAs, those little boxes that make you type in a word to prove you are human before you can comment or register for a site. Their version doesn’t just present a scrambled word to be deciphered, but instead forces a person to choose the right word to unscramble based on the proper emotional response to a human rights violation.
“As the races of man speak in different languages so do the varieties of plants manifest their voices in different ways. They seem to be able to hear and understand us. For the time being, however, we must listen to them through our machines. One day, those machines may be unnecessary.”