Tag Archives | Empathy

Is Less Reading Fiction Making Us Less Empathetic?

Stephenie-Meyer-fans-007The Guardian discusses research on the powerful link between empathy and reading fiction — a novel is a singular experience in terms of being immersed in the interior life of another person, forcing us to undergo events through the protagonist’s eyes and placing us amongst their thoughts. Studies have pointed to a stunting of empathy in young adults over the past few decades — could one reason be the decline of reading of novels for pleasure?

Burying your head in a novel isn’t just a way to escape the world: psychologists are increasingly finding that reading can affect our personalities.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo gave 140 undergraduates passages from either Meyer’s Twilight or JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to read. The study’s authors, Dr. Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young, then applied what they dubbed the Twilight/Harry Potter Narrative Collective Assimilation Scale, which saw the students asked questions designed to measure their identification with the worlds they had been reading about.

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Seeing Beyond ‘Evil’

Dr EvilKate Kelland reports on Reuters via MNN:

Simon Baron Cohen has been battling with evil all his life. As a scientist seeking to understand random acts of violence, from street brawls to psychopathic killings to genocide, he has puzzled for decades over what prompts such acts of human cruelty. And he’s decided that evil is not good enough.

“I’m not satisfied with the term ‘evil’,” says the Cambridge University psychology and psychiatry professor, one of the world’s top experts in autism and developmental psychopathology.

“We’ve inherited this word … and we use it to express our abhorrence when people do awful things, usually acts of cruelty, but I don’t think it’s anything more than another word for doing something bad. And as a scientist that doesn’t seem to me to be much of an explanation. So I’ve been looking for an alternative — we need a new theory of human cruelty.”

Baron Cohen, who is also director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge, has just written a book in which he calls for a kind of rebranding of evil to offer a more scientific explanation for why people kill and torture, or have such great difficulty understanding the feelings of others.

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Building An Empathetic Global Civilization

In this RSA Animate, Jeremy Rifkin examines our innate capacity for empathy, one of the defining traits of the human race (though we share it with a few other species). Rifkin argues that throughout history humans have progressively expanded their “spheres of empathy”, and that our survival as a species depends on expanding empathy further, rather than retreating into tribalism. Will our empathic impulses become more globalized, along with everything else? Or do the conditions of today breed a narrow self-interest which could destroy us?

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Study Finds Fast-Increasing ‘Empathy Deficit’ Among Young Adults

dirty-tricks-of-psychology-for-mind-reading-and-the-roots-of-empathyAs the human species progresses faster and faster in terms of technological achievements, one of our most defining abilities seems to be quickly crumbling: the capacity to understand and care about other people. Scientific American delves into the gaping emotional void:

Humans are unlikely to win the animal kingdom’s prize for fastest, strongest or largest, but we are world champions at understanding one another. This interpersonal prowess is fueled, at least in part, by empathy: our tendency to care about and share other people’s emotional experiences. Empathy is a cornerstone of human behavior and has long been considered innate. A forthcoming study, however, challenges this assumption by demonstrating that empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years.

The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in August in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years.

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