For the sake of abstract future benefits


I’m reading a piece by Paul Bloom in the Boston Review arguing that empathy is a bad thing. I say it in the present tense because I haven’t finished yet; I stopped to argue with something he said, before finishing the whole thing, because I feel like it. If I were reading it offline I would do the same thing in a notebook. (So it will probably turn out that he answers the question, but I want to say anyway.)

Most people see the benefits of empathy as akin to the evils of racism: too obvious to require justification. I think this is a mistake. I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data.

As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.

In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside. Our policies are improved when we appreciate that a hundred deaths are worse than one, even if we know the name of the one, and when we acknowledge that the life of someone in a faraway country is worth as much as the life a neighbor, even if our emotions pull us in a different direction.

No I don’t think so; I think without empathy we don’t care for the one death or the hundred deaths; we don’t care about any. Empathy is the building block for caring about any. It’s not enough by itself; you do need more; but if you have zero you just don’t give a rat’s ass. You extrapolate from close up and personal empathy to a kind of (admittedly attenuated) empathy for the distant millions.

Without empathy, we are better able to grasp the importance of vaccinating children and responding to climate change. These acts impose costs on real people in the here and now for the sake of abstract future benefits, so tackling them may require overriding empathetic responses that favor the comfort and well being of individuals today. We can rethink humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system, choosing to draw on a reasoned, even counter-empathetic, analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences.

That’s just not very convincing. The future benefits aren’t really abstract; they are about the suffering or rescue from suffering of future people. Remember those videos about pertussis? Remember watching that poor infant gasping and choking for breath? Made us all feel super-passionate about vaccination, didn’t it? Because without it you risk people gasping and choking. A whole bunch of people who had had a bout with pertussis told their stories of it right here. And I think a rethink of humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system that’s completely stripped of empathy would be a dud of a rethink. Here in the US we’ve already got a criminal justice system that’s damn short on empathy, and it’s a fucking disgrace.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Like any other of the moral emotions, empathy is a tool with built in biases. Understanding what the biases are is a whole lot more useful than trying to make do without it.

    Basically arguing that empathy should be discouraged is just another variety of the Skeptic Vulcan stance. It’s not going to happen, and it would probably be very destructive if it did happen.

  2. Shatterface says

    I don’t think that empathy is a bad thing, per se, but the cultish obsession with it is disturbing for those of us on the autistic spectrum.

    I don’t see any other quality fetishised into a moral good; nobody says you have to see suffering to be good, or to hear suffering to be good, or to have a cognitive ability like maths or logic calculate goodness according to some utilitarian scale, but evidently having difficulty putting myself in someone else’s shoes means I am incapable of good, or at least less capable of goodness than someone with an instinctive grasp of what someone else is feeling.

    Empathy has ingroup benefits; most people aren’t in that group. Tribalism, nepotism, nationalism, etc. are rooted in empathy. So is the belief that you are morally superior because you possess a cognitive ability someone else is lacking.

    If empathy is necessary for morality there ought to be a correlation between autism and immorality; there isn’t. We can be kind, and unlike empathically motivated kindness, it’s not so that we experience that kindness back vicariously through the minds of people we are kind to.

  3. Shatterface says

    Basically arguing that empathy should be discouraged is just another variety of the Skeptic Vulcan stance.

    Also, we get called Vulcans a hell of a lot.

  4. says

    I think your argument here only works either as a strictly descriptive one or by essentially defining empathy as caring for other people, which is not what most people mean. Empathy, at its base, is simply knowing and understanding what other people are feeling. This can be done either through feeling what other people are feeling — probably associated with the view that we mind read other people through simulating them — or through reasoning out what they’d feel in that situation. It looks to me like both you and Bloom treat empathy as the first one, which is understandable because it is probably how most people figure out what other people are feeling. So, from that, you can either argue that we just do, generally, develop our caring for other people starting from empathy, at which point Bloom and others can reasonably argue about whether we should … mostly for the reason that that means that we WON’T care for people that we can’t figure out emotionally.

    Alternatively, you can argue that feeling the emotions of others just is caring about them. There are more details in a paper on my site, but this doesn’t work because it can’t account for psychopaths and autistics. Autistics have major problems with empathy, and it is very unlikely that they possess a reasonably developed simulation ability OR feeling empathy. But they definitely do seem to genuinely care about people, which is why they remain moral. On the other hand, psychopaths don’t seem to have impaired simulation abilities and seem to be much better at understanding what other people do or will feel than autistics do, because they are so good at manipulation. But psychopaths, for various reasons, just don’t care about other people, and don’t seem capable of morality at all. Note that psychopaths don’t seem to be known for mirror neuron deficiencies, but autistics are.

    Ultimately, it seems just obvious that if you need to be able to feel what someone would feel if you hurt them, killed them, or let them get sick, or even to know what they’d feel in those cases to know that hurting them, killing them, or letting them get sick is wrong … then, well, you don’t seem to be a very moral person. Shouldn’t those things just be obvious in any moral code? And if they aren’t, isn’t using empathy to make it seem obvious problematic?

  5. says

    Bloom dealt with that in the piece. He distinguished between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. He’s talking about emotional empathy in the piece.

  6. says

    Ophelia,

    Yeah, that’s what I said, although I called it “feeling empathy”. I do think that you and Bloom are talking about that type of empathy, and that autistics lack it, and psychopaths might have it. Autistics are still moral, and psychopaths aren’t.

  7. says

    Some autistics lack empathy, some are exquisitely sensitive to the pain felt by other beings. Not everyone on the autism spectrum is the same.

    And when I used the word Vulcan, I was referring to the sort of philosophical utilitarianism espoused by certain skeptics and atheists to discount the experiences of anyone who is not like them (ahem, Dawkins). That’s different from saying that empathy is part of how many, perhaps most, people make decisions and it would be better to educate people as to the problems caused by the biases of the empathy algorithm than to try to eradicate it.

  8. Brony says

    No I don’t think so; I think without empathy we don’t care for the one death or the hundred deaths; we don’t care about any. Empathy is the building block for caring about any. It’s not enough by itself; you do need more; but if you have zero you just don’t give a rat’s ass. You extrapolate from close up and personal empathy to a kind of (admittedly attenuated) empathy for the distant millions.

    A big part of this is that I define empathy as “functionally seeing and acting as if another person is as important as you or those you care about”.

    I think that it can go in both directions (groupindividual) but there may be different risks for each path and I tend to agree with you that empathy is critical, and I see it as most efficient and effective when it starts with individuals. That matches with how we live in groups and how group identity works in a functional sense. We are most attached to those with which we personally know (family, social/political allies, friends) and getting to know individuals in other groups would mirror this process.

    I think it ends up being a matter of how the categorization functionally works for an individual that contains the groups of people in their mind. The “group priority” storage and retrieval can give the benefit of focusing on problems those groups face if the person was already empathetic with people in a general sense. But that would be the positive mirror image of the normal downside to storing people by group, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. People that normally store by group don’t do such a good job of it historically speaking (but there may be ways that work).

    I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data.

    This speaks of inappropriate bias, not just bias. We have to have a means of picking a direction of decision making so bias has to exist somewhere. I’m open to excess empathy having problems (excess might be a problems with all human behavior). But I hope that the book you are reading gets better than this.

    In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside. Our policies are improved when we appreciate that a hundred deaths are worse than one, even if we know the name of the one, and when we acknowledge that the life of someone in a faraway country is worth as much as the life a neighbor, even if our emotions pull us in a different direction.

    But in order to make sense of 100 deaths we have to look at them as individuals and find characteristics that give information to act on. How can removing empathy make this better? A good researcher or policy maker should be able to remove biases from the equation that are problems. Besides this assumes that there are not other biases that can become problems when you don’t look at the individual level. Those need to be taken into account for appropriateness as well.

  9. Brony says

    RE: “Vulcans”

    When I use the word I try to be obvious that it is a stereotype that only exists for comparative purposes. It will only be aspects of the person to which that can apply and the person still has to be treated individually .

    Otherwise I strongly agree that empathy is a phenomena with sub-components and different people that get connected to empathy issues need to be treated more individually. I can’t say that I have met an autistic that I have ever had a problem with, but that could be because I have my own particular issues with “shape of empathy” in Tourette’s and ADHD (which I am willing to share if it advances the discussion).

    With respect to psychopaths I see it more like “strategic empathy” where they can model the interactions and functionally pretend that they have empathy, but the “feeling like others are as important as oneself” is not present. Though I’m not convinced that there are no “technical psychopaths” that actually do fine in society relatively speaking.

  10. Brony says

    A fun extra “Mirror-touch synesthesia”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia#Mirror-touch_synesthesia

    This is a rare form of synesthesia where individuals literally feel the same sensation that another person feels (such as touch)[citation needed]. For instance, when such a synesthete observes someone being tapped on their shoulder, the synesthete involuntarily feels a tap on their own shoulder as well. People with this type of synesthesia have been shown to have higher empathy levels compared to the general population. This may be related to the so-called mirror neurons present in the motor areas of the brain, which have also been linked to empathy

    It’s “citation needed” so I’ll try to dig it up before bed if I can.

  11. says

    But in order to make sense of 100 deaths we have to look at them as individuals and find characteristics that give information to act on. How can removing empathy make this better?

    Because empathy doesn’t actually do that. It’s arguable that the reason that 1 death is a tragedy and a million deaths are a statistics is that our brains are not capable of empathizing with more than one person at a time. If simulation theory is true, we’d empathize with the sides in a serial manner: imagine the first person, and then the second person, and get their emotions that way. We can’t do that for 100 people or a million people, so we don’t … but then we don’t feel the negative emotions and so don’t care if we use that method.

    But if we use a rational method, then it’s just obvious that 100 deaths are, in general, worse than 1, and so if we are forced to choose between 1 death and 100 we choose the 1. And if individual properties matter, then we go look at those. Empathy adds nothing because we’re all sure what that each person feels the same way about their deaths, and using your re-definition of empathy we can still figure that out rationally without using the emotional empathy that Bloom and Ophelia are talking about.

    So emotional empathy doesn’t add anything that we can’t get by reason and gets things wrong a lot of the time. Why use it?

  12. says

    With respect to psychopaths I see it more like “strategic empathy” where they can model the interactions and functionally pretend that they have empathy, but the “feeling like others are as important as oneself” is not present. Though I’m not convinced that there are no “technical psychopaths” that actually do fine in society relatively speaking.

    Actually, the evidence is that psychopaths can’t actually do that … at least the ones that have been identified. They can’t pass the moral/conventional distinction, and when treated and seem to be cured they tend to relapse. Sources are in my essay here: http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/fearlessly-amoral-psychopaths-autistics-and-learning-with-emotion/

    When I say they have empathy, I mean that they are clearly able to predict what people will feel. They just don’t seem to care. But since psychopaths have issues with aversive conditioning, that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel what others feel, just that that doesn’t have any impact on their behaviour … just as their own pain doesn’t, which is why so many of them aren’t actually functional in society.

  13. Ed says

    I think that empathy must be disciplined by reason and expanded by imagination, but without empathy (or sympathy, compassion, etc.) why care at all?

    Without fellow-feeling for other sentient beings, I think I’d be more likely to sleep16 hours a day and spend the remaining 8 on escapist pleasures than become a super-rational dispenser of impartial benevolence.

    And anyway, my empathy is more strongly activated by a person or other being`s vulnerability than “looking like me” or other conventional criteria. I get irritated by authoritative voices like Bloom telling me “what people are like”., as if I’m not human if I don’t respond in some stereotyped manner.

  14. Blanche Quizno says

    @10 Brony: You’re looking for “The Empath” episode of Star Trek (the original series) O_O

  15. Blanche Quizno says

    If anyone is at all interested in developing empathy for violent criminals, here is an article by psychiatrist James Gilligan, who has worked with the most hard-core of prison populations for years: http://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/gilligan-violence

    I understand if you aren’t interested. But that makes me sad :(

    As Brony said recently: “One reason many are resistant to accepting knowledge is because it ALWAYS comes with a price. One you know what you are doing, you are responsible in a way that can be stark and unpleasant. Catharsis sucks, but driving another to one has its uses.
    The logic of the system is a reality that can be used for wonderful or terrible purposes. But make no mistake – we are all using it or letting it use us. However, greater understanding of it can make a person an angel or a demon, so don’t think that the moral and ethical worries will all disappear with self-awareness. There are many paths to psychopathy, and empathy.”

    (“Let’s eat, Grandma.” “Let’s eat Grandma.” Commas save lives.)

  16. Blanche Quizno says

    @13 Ed: “I think that empathy must be disciplined by reason and expanded by imagination, but without empathy (or sympathy, compassion, etc.) why care at all?”

    From personal experience, Ed, I think the far greater PERSONAL danger is in feeling driven by empathy to try and fix someone else’s horrible circumstances. There is a reason that people tend to only have friends of their own socioeconomic stratum; it’s very difficult to be someone of means involved with someone in dire poverty. The requests for donations, loans, for various types of assistance, the begging, seem inevitable, and relationship-destroying. Those with money tend to regard the poor as “trying to pick my pocket” or “trying to get their hands into my wallet”, without realizing that the problem is that our society (in the USA) has woefully inadequate social safety net programs that fail to provide the basic requirements of survival to everyone in need. Of course those who are desperate are going to trot out the manipulation and tugging at the heartstrings, exploiting their relationship with someone better off if they are fortunate enough to have access to such a person. There’s a good reason that people tend to restrict their friendships to people of the same socioeconomic level – not necessarily a HUMANITARIAN reason, but a matter of minimizing one’s instances of irritation, awkwardness, confrontation, and having to say “No” over and over. But this manipulation is a function of their desperate circumstances, not a fatal/pathological character flaw. It’s a matter of survival for them, and no one should judge them for using every means at their disposal to survive and make a better life for themselves and especially their children.

    So, yes, empathy must be tempered with reason and wisdom, but at the same time, we need to address the fact that the circumstances exist that require such reason and wisdom. A given individual has limited resources, whether that person is you or Bill Gates (assuming you’re NOT Bill Gates, of course). In a broken economy, where there are no jobs that pay a living wage for those who lack advanced education and the benefits of having had a supportive, nurturing 1st World upbringing, an individual’s money goes nowhere. Direct contributions to another’s welfare are not tax deductible, you see, and they lack the economies of scale and impartiality that make the same amount capable of helping exponentially more people. Also, with discretionary contributions, there’s always the tendency to judge the recipient, and what we see, especially with those of Christian/conservative sentiments, is that their concern for the well-being of the money tends to far outweigh their concern for the needs of their fellow human beings. Just ask someone how many sandwiches or bottles of water a homeless person must collect in order to be able to rent a hotel room for the night. Can’t give them actual MONEY, because they MIGHT use the money on drugs or booze! Oh, won’t SOMEONE think of the MONEY???

    I gave a beggar $10 once. I had a few moments at the stop light, so we were chatting. He said, “This will buy breakfast for me and my two friends!” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, there’s this little diner down the way that has an eggs and potatoes breakfast for $2.99.” Drugs or booze my ass.

  17. Brony says

    @ Verbose Stoic 11
    My apologies, I worded that badly.

    By “…make sense of…” I was referring to the need to figure out “what happened” in the more intellectual realms which have to involve looking at individuals sequentially (the area that I believe the author wants to be working optimally). My main idea in that paragraph is that we might not really be gaining anything if removing empathy adds it’s own bias problems.

    Empathy as a phenomena changes what sorts of things stick in memory (creates them, maybe overrides others, or alters balances). While that can create bias, I’m not really comfortable in assuming that other biases are are not going to be present or uniquely problematic in the absence of empathy. Those empathy memory signatures might not all be bad for data collection and some may even be critical.

    Otherwise I agree about your point.

    I’ll take a look at #12 tomorrow. My knowledge about psychopathy is certainly not complete.

  18. Ed says

    Blanche-

    Good point about the potential dangers of personally trying to “fix” other`s lives on an individual level, but I was primarily talking about the motivation for whatever one considers the appropriate response to suffering being rooted in empathy (in my opinion) whether one’s choice is giving to the les fortunate, giving to or working for nonprofit groups, or political activism (or a mixture).

    I’ve actually dealt with a handful of people who expected me to be their savior because I’d helped them out a few times when I could afford to, so I definitely know what you mean about the limits and dangers of direct private action. A strong social safety net is really the only answer in the long run.

    As for having friends outside of one’s own socioeconomic sphere, it’s complicated because many ingredients go into making up a person’s “class” and friendship has different definitions and criteria. For example, I’m not particularly wealthy, and have had some bad setbacks due to a few serious episodes of mental illness and their aftermath, other health problems and the occasional poor financial decision.

    But being from an educated background, I have friends much more financially successful than I am because we went to school together or engaged in the same cultural activities and simply like each other and have intersts in common.

    Since I also grew up in a multicultural environment and enjoyed it, I have a hard time understanding the problem so many people have with relating to those from different places of origin and ethnicities than theirs and I tend to see a lot of human universals beneath the particulars.

    And often, for me, friendship is just a matter of finding a person pleasant company. Having a sense of boundaries about not getting into the part of friends` private lives which don’t need to involve me is a skill I’ve developed, though it’s hard in the occasional case when it’s them being intrusive.

  19. Paul Bloom says

    Hi Ophelia —

    Thanks for the comment. If you keep reading the main article (and the response), you’ll see that I argue that empathy isn’t actually necessary for caring. There are a few arguments for this, but I think the point is rather intuitive. To use your example, you can be powerfully moved by watching an infant who is suffering without empathetically mirroring the suffering yourself. (My own example is that that you don’t have to feel like you’re downing to rescue a drowning child.) There are other motivations for kindness and caring, and these are, I argue, more reliable, fair, and powerful than empathy.

    Also, there are a lot of individuals with very low emotional empathy who turn out to be kind and moral people, and there are people with high emotional empathy who turn out to be real bastards. As Jesse Prinz points out in his commentary, the correlation between empathy and moral reasoning and behavior is surprisingly small.

    best,

    Paul Bloom

  20. says

    Take all the empathetic people from the world and see what kind of moral code develops. You can be as rational as you like, but if at least a percentage of your culture has nothing on which to to define a moral good for others, I doubt it will work out too well.

  21. Brony says

    @ Verbose Stoic 12
    I apologize for the lateness (busy weekend and ADHD makes parsing a detailed blog post more challenging). I will also post this to your blog to make sure you see it. I tangented into autism a lot, I hope you don’t mind.

    Before getting into these issues, though, it must be established that autistics really are moral and psychopaths really are not.

    I agree in the colloquial sense. But My mental model of “moral” involves multiple elements and I might not be contrasting with you in my #9, but rather using a different way describing things. Either way I don’t mind the opportunity to get more accurate (thank you for that) and I will try to contrast what I think what you are saying and see what you think. I do need to get better at the proper jargon and rely on my own ways of describing what I see in the literature.
    I see “moral behavior” breaking down into:
    *The emotional felt states that allow accurate read-outs of a situation (context, persons…), and accurate targeting of responses.
    *The ability to mentally model oneself and other people in social situations.
    *The ability to paint the relevant feelings onto the mental model such that other actors are accurately felt as if they are moral proxies equivalent to oneself. What are called mirror neurons systems are important here because the self is constructed by mapping the body fully into interactions, and “theory of mind” is essentially being able to connect the “self map” to simulations of other people.
    The second one is where I think what I referred to as “strategic empathy” lies. Psychopaths can form mental models of social situations more accurately than autistics, but they lack the emotional targeting systems so they have limited accuracy. The more successful and harmful ones are that form the social stereotypes of the “master psychopathic manipulator”.
    Autistics I see as less able to model social situations, but they have the emotions and honestly “mean well”, but have to work harder to make social mindware. While a lot of what gets discussed around here involves intent not mattering as much as reality when it comes to emotions, I personally allow room for intent when it’s just me because of autistics and people like myself (it’s harder to balance in the larger social issues around here).
    That last one is where my own empathy issues can lie. The literature describes individuals with Tourette’s as having trouble inhibiting personal perspective. I can do it and quite successfully create very strong empathy, but it’s more deliberate than for most. It’s like we have an internal [selfother] dial that is turned back and forth contextually and I have to make switching it a familiar routine. Essentially where the “moral emotions” are present in autism, and absent in psychopathy, I believe they howl in my head like a hurricane which creates its own precision problems. Sometime that sort of “on/off” choice makes me concerned.

    Moral rules hold independently of any authority, while conventional rules do not. Thus, asking someone if the action would be okay if the most directly relevant authority said it would be okay – like, say, a teacher in a classroom – is a good way to test for this distinction. Psychopaths do not pass this test…
    …adult criminal psychopaths respond as if both moral and conventional rules are authority-independent, while psychopathic children answer as if neither are. Prinz points out that Blair suggests that the psychopathic criminals are trying to make it appear like they understand what things are moral and understand why moral rules are bad, but fail miserably, while the psychopathic children are perhaps giving a more genuine reply as to how they view the moral and the conventional.

    This and the surrounding seems to match up with what I was saying about missing the emotions that normally allow implicit understanding required for successful creation and targeting of moral social behavior. Since they have to try to create moral behavior purely intellectually it ends up being “strategic” and not “felt”.

    They bring up two issues. The first is that while autistics can identify faux pas, they may not properly understand them. When asked why one should not commit faux pas, they appealed to rules instead of the pain of the victim. The second issue asks if the autistics were really treating moral rules as authority-independent, or if they were just appealing to another authority than the one presented in the test (so, say, instead of it being dependent on the authority of the teacher it was dependent on the authority of their parents, even though they were not present) [De Vignemont and Frith, Comment on McGeer, pg 277].

    Which rules? Because one distinction that I have brought up is that there are multiple “rules”. In recent arguments there have been appeals to the rules of logic and rationality (learned patterns), but our emotional systems also run off of rules. It might be like an emotionally meaningful, but intellectually void waving at “rules”.
    Alternatively if they mean either moral/conventional rules, this could be a case where the appreciation of the “moral” thing to do is stuck in the implicit realm more strongly, and autistics have a problem moving moral mindware from the implicit to the explicit where it can become more versatile.
    Another possibility is that psychopaths are able to model physical behavior with intellectual effort so can “fake it” better in terms of sounding convincing in speech, but fail when being observed practicing moral behavior (so maybe my term should be “attempted strategic modeling of empathy”). Autistics on the other hand have the emotions but can’t model the behavior as well so they seem socially awkward, but get moral behavior more correct based on what they can model. Your aside on Temple Grandin (I really really like her) seems to support this as she discusses “really bad”, “illegal but not bad”, and “sins of the system”. Autistics are moral on the most critical matters, and are generally able to intellectualize through the rest of it unlike psychopaths.

    This could, then, suggest that autistics are substituting a cognitively based empathy for the more emotionally based one, which allows them to learn morality where psychopaths do not. However, this is belied by the fact that psychopaths are generally both manipulative and successful at manipulating others.

    I think this and the following is also related to the feeling and intellectualizing of morals but poor modeling of interactions of autism (emotional empathy), contrasted with absent feeling of morals and intellectualizing on interactions in psychopathy (cognitive empathy). We could be looking at two parts (with their own systems for contextual adjustment) of the how the mirror neuron system connects the external simulation to the self with application of emotions for proper formation, selection, and targeting of moral mindware. I disagree that autistics lack the emotional empathy, I just think they have problems functionally connecting it to cognitive empathy (any autistic is now encouraged give me their perspective).

    Could they be using a different emotion or set of emotions to achieve the same results?

    Same emotions but different ability to attach them to models of social reality and the self is I think a better interpretation up to this point in your post.
    But this does not preclude there being actual differences in what emotions are present or relative proportions (I need to get into the literature on the anatomical correlates of emotions more). The anecdote you provide from Temple Grandin bears more consideration, but it still speaks of feeling socially contextualized emotional responses (anxiety about breaking rules in this case). If psychopaths don’t feel that socially contextualized anxiety, they are not driven by more than intellectual desire to learn the rules and instead try to act empathetic and moral in a socially strategic sense.

    But the problem is still one of general performance. Since psychopaths can generally learn, why can they not learn this well enough to fake it?

    Because they don’t feel it and feeling drives learning if one is learning on their own. I imagine most psychopaths are very isolated when having to act morally and might carefully limit learning moral rules to situations where they can pick it up but might not have to use it. This argues for increased socialization of psychopaths, but you refer to “therapeutic communities” and CBT being ineffective later. That is unfortunate and the example also highlights my view that teaching people a social pattern makes it a tool that can be used for may purposes. Psychopaths need a proxy for the emotional signals in social contexts, and more focus on reward instead of punishment as you suggest later in your piece (this might annoy some people but if the science suggests a solution it is what it is). What you refer to as “genuineness” is the appearance of the emotional felt states in the stream of consciousness. Autistics feel them but have trouble functionally actualizing them.

    Blair cites a study by David Lykken which paired a buzzer with an electric shock to try to see if psychopaths would start sweating in response to the buzzer, which is the normal response to the electric shock. The reactions of psychopaths were impaired with respect to the sweating reaction [Blair, The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain, pg 49].

    “Embodied cognition” comes to mind. I explain a bit about how emotions are thought to be elaborations of felt body states here. “Self Comes to Mind” by Damasio is a good source.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/08/the-withdrawing-room-2/comment-page-1/#comment-2741487
    The reduced anticipation of negative events speaks to a lack of mindware from the lack of emotions to me. Similar for instrumental learning. This is interesting in the context of four ways of modifying behavior (positive/negative punishment/reward. Note: positive= addition of something to environment, negative =removal of something from environment, punishment= decrease in specific behavior, reward= increase in specific behavior) and I do think that different cognitive shapes are differently affectable by them.

    Temple Grandin, in fact, deliberately simulates and puts herself in the position of the person in order to do what she calls empathy [Grandin, Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, pgs 97 – 99].

    If empathy is a phenomena with more than one component, I don’t see how this is not empathy, or at least a form of it. If she can successfully create the ability to see another as herself then I think we need more complex language for discussing empathy.

  22. Brony says

    @Blanche Quizno
    Sorry that I did not respond to you until now. It was a busy weekend and some of the things I was posting elsewhere took up a lot of mental space.
    @14
    I’m missing the reference. I’ll have to look it up. I still need to try to chase down the actual reference to to the mirror-touch synesthesia. That is a fascinating example to work into how empathy works functionally.

    As for Star Trek references I’m much more like Spock’s brother from the fifth movie in terms of stereotyping XD

    @15
    To rephrase my point, developing the ability to see a patterns of behavior in society is developing a cognitive tool and often that basically moves things from the unconscious realm to the conscious realm. What is done or can be done after that point depends on the individual. This probably applies to far more than a simple empathy-psychopathy dichotomy. The “average person” will have to make the same moral and ethical decisions.

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