Hidden Brain, "Empathy Gym"

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Hidden Brain, Empathy

  • Segment 1: Artist's performance art installation. Wafa. Internet connected paint ball gun. Iraqi artist, lost his brother in air strike. Thinking about drone warfare, thinking about consequences of actions... ends at 5:22.
  • Jamil Zaki, The War for Kindness. Early 70s program for faculty, mom from Peru to WSU, married/divorced while Jamil was young, felt difference in parents' rules/values. Credits that to empathy. Parent's divorce was an "empathy gym".
  • Benefits of empathy -- benefits both parties. empathic doctor-patient relationships, empathic partners. Giving empathy less depression, less stress, adolescents with emotional skill better adjusted in middle school.
  • clip from Sesame street -- phone call from friend. Three components:
  • 1. emotional empathy
  • 2. cognitive empathy
  • 3. empathy concern and compassion. 13:00
  • autism spectrum disorders. often still have 1 but not 2
  • psychopathy often have 2 but not 1
  • Segment 2: Cultural instantiation of empathy. Sarah Conrath - survey research using validated instrument. Trend toward less empathy. Alot since 2000.
  • Other variables: living alone. hard to know about link there. pretty speculative. We are more urban, solitary, and transactional. These interactions don't favor empathy. Internet? Might be a source of empathy, early idealism of internet. But we might be using the Internet in negative empathy ways -- no faces (!), avatars, text. Research on dehumanizing opinions from text vs. voice. (Tapping into a long line of theory about urban life and dehumanization.) segment ends at 21:30
  • We'll stop here for today's class. The rest on Thursday.
  • Segment 3: Costs and benefits of Empathy
  • Trauma and empathy. Could go in different directions. Hurt people hurt people. But also "altruism born of suffering". Addicts become addiction counselors...etc. Research showing that showing American harsh video from 9/11 attacks increases willingness to torture. Other research: more wary of outsiders.
  • But 9/11 was also unifying, eliciting empathy. (Change in stereotype of “New Yorker”)
  • Paul Bloom, Against Empathy - empathy tends to be tribal, Zaki doesn’t disagree, adds that -- oxcitociin studies do turn up parochialism along with empathy. Zaki draws different conclusion. Bloom thinks we should give up on empathy. Believes that empathy is trainable. Could go in different directions.
  • Sometimes we need to be less empathetic. Research on police officers showing strong empathy, even to officers in trouble. (Interesting insight on “police empathy” (good guys who made a mistake). In-group empathy (parochial empathy) might interfere with perception. High in-group empaths, even if empathic to outsiders, are not likely to allow threat to tribe. 29:23: Advice: If we want to open up to others (out groups - the people we discriminate against), we need to notice this. What if we are over empathic to our group?
  • Professionals who need to use empathy (caring professions) might suffer from its expression. Defensive dehumanization (self-protection) -- blocking empathy for self-preservation. Example of therapist who doesn’t schedule depressed patient at the end of the day.
  • Mark Panser study: Researchers set up table in busy student union soliciting donations, happy child/ suffering child. unmanned/wheelchair. You’d think the sad child and wheelchair attendant would be a winner. But it backfired! Other examples: Crossing the street to avoid a homeless person. Maybe we (especially high empaths) avoid triggering our own empathetic response.
  • Empathy and Dehumanization: Study on whites reading about native Americans. Led to negative judgement of Native Americans to dismiss guilt (cog. dissonance). In “obedience to authority” studies, subject who shock confederates report liking victim less, death row officers tend to dehumanize inmates, more likely to lead avoidance or dehumanizing judgements. ends at 36:00
  • Segment 4: Back to art installation; how to “pump” empathy.
  • many thousands of shots. Lamp destroyed by aggressive person. Matt, a former marine, arrives with new lamp! Takes action (similar issue in Sapolsky). Zaki interprets both events. Others show up! Muffins, socks, online helpers. Virtual human shields. 36 people keep the button down to prevent panning the gun.
  • Zaki project: Used virtual reality “scenes” to have inside experience of homelessness. Scenes of typical events in homeless experience. Simulation increased empathy even 30 days later and more supportive of housing policies. (Sheds light on research showing the wealthy are less empathic.)
  • Acting and empathy. Might pump empathy. Study involving adolescents in theatre v visual arts. Thespians pumped more empathy. Reading fiction also does this. (Moth stories, story core, human interest stories on news.)
  • Manchester U fans study: Levine: study involving rabid fans, asked them to write about why they love Man U. Taken to another building, they encounter a jogger confederate sometimes Man U, Liverpool, blank jersey. More likely to pass over Liverpool jogger. Second version: Why you love soccer. Equal help. Blank jersey left behind! Point: we have some flexibility in how we frame our group membership. A station at the empathy gym!
  • Back to Zaki's childhood experience. Lesson to learn that very different people could have deep and authentic experience. Also, we can have different values because of our experiences, equally determinative in opposite directions. "Naive realism" false. Empathy helps you understand that someone’s world is as real as yours.