Us and them: Intergroup failures of empathy
Author(s)Cikara, Mina; Bruneau, Emile Gabriel; Saxe, Rebecca R.
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People are often motivated to increase others' positive experiences and to alleviate others' suffering. These tendencies to care about and help one another form the foundation of human society. When the target is an outgroup member, however, people may have powerful motivations not to care about or help that “other.” In such cases, empathic responses are rare and fragile; it is easy to disrupt the chain from perception of suffering to motivation to alleviate the suffering to actual helping. We highlight recent interdisciplinary research demonstrating that outgroup members' suffering elicits dampened empathic responses as compared to ingroup members' suffering. We consider an alternative to empathy in the context of intergroup competition: schadenfreude—pleasure at others' pain. Finally, we review recent investigations of intergroup-conflict interventions that attempt to increase empathy for outgroups. We propose that researchers across the range of psychological sciences stand to gain a better understanding of the foundations of empathy by studying its limitations.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Current Directions in Psychological Science
Cikara, M., E. G. Bruneau, and R. R. Saxe. “Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20.3 (2011): 149–153. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Author's final manuscript