The science of empathy

The Times recently published a curious article on the science of empathy after a case where an eight year-old girl broke her leg and several drivers apparently drove past without caring to stop and help.

Apart from the grating “empathy has a physical location” (the spirit of phrenology lives on…) it’s a brief but interesting look at some of the emerging research into empathy, although doesn’t do a great job of tying it together into a coherent overview.

For those wanting a more in-depth (and more accurate) look at the neuroscience of empathy, a 2003 review article by Drs Jean Decety and Philip Jackson is a fantastic four-page romp through the recent research in the area.

Link to article ‘In a sorry state of mind’.
Link to Decety and Jackson article on empathy.

Item at the excellent Mind Hacks


I met a fella a few years ago who had attempted suicide by crashing into an oncoming schoolbus with much sad injury. After years in court and much therapy he learned from his psychologists that he had little empathy. His brain lacked activity when presented with provocative stimuli originating from other people, affirmed by brain scans. He practiced various mental exercises in hope of increasing his ‘sense of others’. Alas, there must have been some improvement. He later successfully commited suicide over a tremendous California cliff. True.

I think we can divide ourselves by empathy.

Some folks cannot seem to relate to either the joy or pain of others.