Self Help

The Science of Evil On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty - Baron-Cohen, Simon

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Matheus Puppe

· 27 min read

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  • The summary discusses how humans can treat other people as objects and switch off their natural feelings of sympathy for suffering people.

  • It gives examples of unethical medical experiments performed by educated doctors and scientists, even though their goal may have been to contribute to knowledge rather than be cruel. However, they lost sight of the humanity of their subjects.

  • It discusses cruelty displayed by Nazi guards, like forcing an inmate to hang his friend who tried to escape. This showed a extreme lack of empathy from the guard.

  • The persistence of the question about why humans can be cruel reveals that current explanations like “evil” are unsatisfactory and don’t provide understanding.

  • Treating others as objects by switching off empathy is one way humans inflict harm. Empathy can erode due to emotions like hatred or a desire to protect oneself.

  • Turning a person into an “it” rather than a “thou” ignores their subjectivity and thoughts/feelings. Pursuing one’s own interests solely can lead to lack of empathy.

  • Examples from around the world like Kenya show empathy erosion is found in any culture, proving Nazis were not uniquely cruel. Understanding how empathy works and can erode may help explain human cruelty.

The passage describes four different examples of shocking acts of cruelty that exemplify a lack of empathy:

  1. Josef Fritzl imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth in his basement for 24 years, repeatedly raping her and fathering seven children with her. He appeared distraught about her disappearance on TV while hiding her imprisonment.

  2. In Uganda, rebels forced mothers to beat their children to death with poles. If they were too slow, the rebels would beat the mothers and make them hit harder.

  3. During the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, over 1.5 million Armenians were killed through mass burning, injections of morphine, toxic gas, and death marches.

  4. In the Congo, rebels forced a young boy to have sex with his mother, then killed them both. They also kidnapped the woman’s three daughters.

The passage argues these acts show how some people can view others merely as objects, devoid of empathy. It sets up exploring what empathy is, why some people have less of it, and the consequences of lacking empathy.

  • Empathy exists on a spectrum from low to high, rather than being simply on or off. Most people fall in the middle range of the “empathy bell curve.”

  • The authors developed a scale called the Empathy Quotient (EQ) to measure individual differences in empathy. Higher scores indicate higher empathy.

  • The EQ is useful for distinguishing people with empathy difficulties from those without. It produces the expected bell curve distribution in large samples.

  • There are concerns about self-report measures like the EQ, as those with low empathy may not realize it. But measurement error evens out in large samples.

  • Based on EQ scores, the authors propose there are 7 broad levels or “settings” of an underlying “Empathizing Mechanism” in the brain that determines one’s empathy.

  • Level 0 is the lowest, with no empathy at all. Some at this level may commit cruel acts like torture or murder, while others just struggle with relationships. Level 0 individuals cannot experience remorse or understand others’ feelings.

So in summary, the passage discusses conceptualizing empathy as a continuous spectrum, measuring it, and proposing different levels of functioning of the underlying empathizing ability in people.

Here is a summary of the key points about extreme lack of empathy or zero degrees of empathy:

  • Level 1 involves being able to hurt others but showing some regret afterwards. Empathy is not sufficiently inhibiting violent behavior in certain conditions.

  • Level 2 still has difficulties with empathy but enough to avoid physical aggression by understanding how others may feel hurt. Subtle social cues are still not anticipated well.

  • Level 3 knows they have empathy issues and try to compensate by avoiding jobs/relationships with demands on empathy. Social interaction is difficult.

  • Level 4 has a low average level of empathy that does not usually affect behavior.

  • Empathy levels correlate with specific regions in the brain’s empathy circuit becoming underactive, especially the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which is important for social and emotional processing.

  • Complete lack of empathy involves damage to the empathy circuit in the brain resulting in an inability to consider others’ perspectives or feel concern for their welfare. Historic examples involve people becoming cruel and lacking basic social restraints after brain injuries.

  • The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), frontal operculum (FO), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), caudal anterior cingulate cortex (cACC), anterior insula (AI), temporoparietal junction (TPJ), superior temporal sulcus (STS), somatosensory cortex, inferior parietal lobule (IPL), and inferior parietal sulcus are key brain regions involved in the empathy circuit.

  • Damage to areas like the OFC, FO, and IFG can produce deficits in social cognition and empathy. The IFG activates more for people who score higher on empathy tests when viewing emotional faces.

  • The cACC/AI activation is linked to perceiving pain in others. This activation is modulated by how much one imagines themselves in the other person’s position.

  • The TPJ and STS are involved in theory of mind and interpreting others’ intentions/gaze. Damage to these areas can impair ability to judge intentions.

  • The somatosensory cortex and mirror neuron system (IFG, IPL) activate both when experiencing and observing actions/touch, suggesting an embodied simulation mechanism underlying empathy. Damage or disruption to these areas diminishes ability to recognize emotions.

  • The right posterior superior temporal sulcus (IPS) (just posterior to the IPL) contains neurons called “mirror neurons” that fire both when a monkey performs an action and when it observes another monkey performing the same action.

  • Interestingly, some IPS neurons in monkeys also fire when the monkey looks in a specific direction, and when it sees another monkey looking in the same direction. This suggests neurons that mirror another’s direction of gaze.

  • While mirror neurons may facilitate empathy, they are not fully equivalent to empathy. Mirroring can occur without consciously considering another’s emotional state, as in mimicry, emotional contagion, or the “chameleon effect”.

  • Empathy involves more than just automatic mirroring and contagion - it requires a conscious understanding of mental states. Both automatic and conscious neural systems interact in empathy.

  • The amygdala, located in the limbic system, is also involved in the empathy circuit. It is key for emotional learning/regulation and cueing attention to eyes for clues about thoughts/emotions. Damage to the amygdala impairs recognition of fearful facial expressions.

  • These regions comprise the “empathy circuit” in the brain, though they are not linearly connected but have multiple interactions. Finding variation in their activity could help explain individual differences in empathy.

Carol has issues with anger and treating her children disrespectfully. When they do not obey her commands, she will scream, swear at them, and say extremely hurtful things like wishing they were dead or that she hates them. She will then storm off and leave them upset while she goes to have fun with friends.

Carol also struggles with relationships. She assumes others have hostile intentions towards her and misinterprets their emotions. She is unable to see things from others’ perspectives and lacks empathy. Her relationships are unstable and characterized by constant conflict initiated by her. She accuses partners of not caring about her and threatens self-harm.

Carol’s parenting reflects her own selfishness and inability to consider her children’s needs. She focused solely on her own emotions and demands without restraint. Her inappropriate behavior has a significant negative impact on her children.

Carol’s upbringing involved severe neglect and abuse. Her mother ignored her needs as an infant, was emotionally and physically abusive, and favored other children. Carol grew up feeling unloved and responsible for herself from a young age. This early trauma and lack of attachment appears to have severely damaged her ability to self-regulate, empathize with others, and maintain healthy relationships as an adult. She displays many characteristics of borderline personality disorder.

  • Carol had a difficult childhood and adolescence, with an affectionate but depressed father who was often gone, and parents who fought physically. Her parents divorced when she was 9.

  • As a teen, she turned to drugs, sex, and wished to die from depression. She was raped at 16 by a man she met in a cafe.

  • She had a baby at 18 but developed postnatal depression and the baby was put in foster care. She married but the relationship did not last.

  • Borderline personality disorder is characterized by impulsivity, anger, mood swings, and black-and-white thinking. Borderlines have high rates of suicide attempts.

  • Famous borderline Marilyn Monroe had an unstable childhood including being in foster care. She was married 3 times and attempted suicide several times before dying of an overdose at age 36.

  • Borderlines likely develop due to a difficult childhood with inconsistent caregiving leading to problems with identity, relationships and emotion regulation as adults.

  • The passage discusses object relations theory, which argues that borderline personality disorder can result from parents not respecting a child’s needs or abusing/neglecting the child. This causes problems in separating from parents and developing a stable sense of self.

  • Studies have found high rates of childhood abuse/neglect among those diagnosed with BPD. Around 40-70% report a history of sexual abuse, 60-80% physical abuse or emotional neglect. This provides evidence for a link between early trauma and developing BPD.

  • Brain imaging studies find abnormalities in the empathy circuit of BPD patients, like decreased activity in prefrontal cortex and temporal regions involved in empathy. Studies of abused children also find changes like smaller amygdala size.

  • The passage then discusses psychopaths (Type P), who share the self-preoccupation of BPD but are willing to harm others. It provides an example of a convicted murderer, Paul, who showed a lack of remorse and viewed his violent act as justified self-defense.

  • In summary, the passage examines theories that BPD and psychopathy result from deficiencies in the brain’s empathy circuit due to childhood abuse/neglect or other developmental issues.

  • Paul has a history of criminal and violent behavior dating back to childhood, indicating he has antisocial personality disorder.

  • Around 15% of prison populations meet the criteria for psychopathy. Paul displays characteristics of a psychopath like lack of anxiety, guilt, empathy and ability to form relationships.

  • Parental rejection in childhood is a major risk factor for developing psychopathic traits. Rejected children may develop rage and lack of emotion regulation that leads to violence later in life.

  • John Bowlby’s attachment theory explored how parental affection in early childhood gives a child internal resources like confidence, ability to manage anxiety, and form intimate relationships. Children with “insecure attachment” due to rejection are more likely to develop antisocial behaviors.

  • Paul rationalizes his lack of remorse over killing someone by saying no one has ever shown him empathy or been sorry for mistreating him in the past. He feels entitled to treat others as he has been treated.

  • Bowlby’s attachment theory argues that secure attachment between an infant and caregiver predicts not just emotional well-being as an adult, but also moral development. Insecure attachment is correlated with social/behavioral difficulties and higher divorce rates.

  • Bowlby studied 44 juvenile delinquents who had unstable childhoods in institutions, forming only superficial relationships. This informed his view that deep, trusting relationships with a small number of caregivers are important for development.

  • Secure attachment promotes social, language, empathy, and academic skills. Insecure attachment increases risk of aggression, difficulty interpreting social cues, and abuse of one’s own children.

  • Bowlby’s work transformed policies around maternal/child care. Other research supported the impact of inconsistent parenting on empathy development.

  • Psychopaths have reduced physiological arousal to others’ distress, difficulty recognizing emotions, and interpreting situations as more hostile. This suggests deficits in cognitive and affective empathy.

  • However, psychopaths don’t necessarily score lower on moral reasoning tests. They may understand socially acceptable answers even if their behavior differs. Research also links low IQ, socioeconomic status, and insecure attachment to increased antisocial behavior.

  • Jeffrey Gray developed a model of anxiety called the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) located in the septo-hippocampal brain network. The BIS allows animals to learn the emotional consequences of their actions through reward and punishment.

  • Joseph Newman argued that psychopaths have an underactive BIS, meaning they have trouble learning and thinking about the consequences of their actions due to damage in this brain region. This explains why psychopaths repeatedly engage in punished behaviors and fail to change behavior even when it no longer leads to rewards.

  • The idea that psychopaths lack fear was an important insight. Studies found psychopaths have less conditioned fear responses and startle responses compared to normal individuals, suggesting a lower fear of punishment.

  • Brain imaging studies find abnormalities in the empathy circuit, including less activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), orbital frontal cortex (OFC), temporal regions, and amygdala in psychopaths. The connectivity between vmPFC/OFC and amygdala is also reduced.

  • Damage to the vmPFC/OFC specifically, not the whole frontal lobes, is associated with increased aggression. This implicates abnormalities in the empathy circuitry. Studies also link vmPFC damage to reduced autonomic arousal to distressing stimuli and continued risky decision making.

  • Early stress and neglect may affect how the empathy circuit develops, helping to explain the link between childhood trauma and psychopathy.

  • The hippocampus helps regulate the stress response. Too much stress can damage the hippocampus.

  • The amygdala detects threats and triggers the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to release hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is the “stress hormone.” The hippocampus has receptors for cortisol to regulate the stress response.

  • Prolonged stress can cause the amygdala to become overreactive, leading to overreactive or reactive aggression as part of the fight-or-flight response.

  • The amygdala and prefrontal cortex control reactive aggression. An overactive amygdala or underactive prefrontal cortex can lead to reduced inhibition and overreactive aggression.

  • Psychopaths may have an underactive “violence inhibition mechanism” that is normally triggered by seeing distress in others. This leads to reduced empathy and increased aggression.

  • Narcissists (Type N) have zero empathy because they are supremely self-centered and think they are better than others. They feel entitled to attention and respect but lack humility. Their constant boasting drives others away but they are unaware of how their behavior affects others.

  • Individuals with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, have zero degrees of empathy but can be described as “zero-positive” for two reasons.

  • First, their lack of empathy is associated with having a highly precise and analytical mind that can lead to talents.

  • Second, paradoxically their way of processing information in a rule-based, logical manner causes them to develop a super-moral sense rather than being immoral.

  • Michael is presented as an example. He struggles socially due to bluntly stating opinions and facts without consideration of others’ feelings. But he is obsessed with truth, evidence, facts and systems of rules.

  • While his rigid rules cause problems at home, his precise mind allowed him to see differences in snowflakes that others couldn’t as a child.

  • In summary, individuals with Asperger’s have empathy difficulties but this is coupled with talents in logical, systems-based thinking that can foster strong morality, making their condition described as “zero-positive.”

  • The class teased him, calling him derogatory names like “snowflake brain” and “nerdy”.

  • In secondary school, he avoided social situations by spending time alone in the library reading about train systems. He accumulated a large amount of information but hardly spoke to anyone.

  • On a few occasions, he was bullied. Boys would grab his bag and taunt him when he chased after them to get it back. They called him names and would throw him in the school dumpster.

  • At university studying math, he hoped to fit in but still kept to himself. He found conversations with others confusing and had no idea how to socialize or read social cues.

  • He became depressed and suicidal from the loneliness. He dropped out of college and moved back home, refusing meals and staying in his room alone all day.

  • He has zero empathy and doesn’t understand what others are thinking or feeling. He has learned some basic social rules but finds interacting with people very stressful.

  • The human brain looks for patterns as a way to predict the future, understand how things work, invent new technologies, and uncover truths. People with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are especially adept at noticing patterns.

  • Several individuals with Asperger’s are profiled who have systematized or organized various areas of the world in detailed patterns. This includes church bell patterns, weather notebooks, drawings of repeated geometric shapes, memorizing numbers, and model building.

  • While they struggle with social skills and empathy, their minds are very good at mathematical and visual pattern recognition. This helps them focus intensely in areas of personal interest.

  • The ability to recognize patterns enables discoveries of scientific truths like Pi that are timeless. It also allows experimenting with variables to better understand systems and make new inventions.

  • There are two ways to systematize or develop patterns - through observation alone, and through observation plus manipulating a variable to test predictions. This process of identifying patterns can continue as new data is considered.

  • In summary, the article explores how individuals with Asperger’s focus intensely on systematizing detailed patterns in narrow areas of interest, even if it comes at the expense of social skills. Their minds are exceptionally tuned to noticing intricate patterns.

  • The Systemizing Mechanism refers to parts of the brain that perceive patterns and systems in information, enabling understanding of how things work and predicting the future.

  • Systemizing ability varies in the population and can be measured using questionnaires and tests. It operates on a scale from low to high systemizing ability.

  • At the highest level of systemizing (Level 6), one is focused exclusively on perceiving patterns and has difficulty with unexpected changes. Anything unpredictable is perceived as “toxic change.”

  • This level of hyper-systemizing is associated with autism, as unexpected events cause high stress. Individuals desire highly controlled, predictable environments.

  • However, it can also lead to original insights by noticing patterns others miss, which has been described as a type of “genius.”

  • At Level 6, there is intense focus on truth and precision. Emotions and social interactions are difficult to understand as they are unpredictable and imprecise.

  • This extreme systemizing ability comes at the cost of empathy, as one is not focused on emotional states or perspectives of others. Unpredictable human behavior is challenging to comprehend.

So in summary, it presents a model whereby extreme systemizing ability is linked to autism but can enable insights, at the trade-off of difficulty with change and empathy.

Here is a summary of the provided text:

  • Classic autism is described as treating others as objects without intending harm, unlike psychopaths who intentionally harm others while being aware of others’ feelings.

  • Stories are given of individuals with classic autism who treat people like detached objects or things to satisfy desires, without recognition of others’ feelings or needs. This includes ignoring others, being oblivious to them, or hitting a crying baby to stop the noise.

  • It is argued these individuals lack both the cognitive and affective components of empathy. However, their lack of awareness means they are not knowingly hurting others in the way psychopaths do.

  • Their strong systemizing abilities are noted, even if not expressed through savant talents. Systemizing allows human technological and scientific innovation.

  • Those with Asperger syndrome/zero-positive are said to develop strong moral codes through systemizing rather than empathy. This makes them law enforcers rather than lawbreakers despite empathy difficulties.

  • Genetic factors are implicated given echoing profiles in parents/siblings of those with autism, and increased rates of systemizing professions in parents. The role of genes in empathy is set to be examined.

  • Twin and family studies provide evidence that empathy and certain personality types have a genetic component. Identical twins show higher correlation in empathy measures than non-identical twins, suggesting genetics play a role.

  • Borderline personality disorder, autism/Asperger’s, and psychopathic tendencies like callousness show moderate to high heritability estimates from twin studies (30-70% genetic influence).

  • The MAOA gene, which regulates serotonin levels, is one possible “gene for empathy/aggression”. Variants that produce low enzyme levels are linked to increased aggression, especially when combined with childhood abuse environmental factors.

  • No twin studies have been done specifically on “Type N” zero empathy yet. Family studies show borderline personality and autism/Asperger’s run in families, indicating a genetic component.

  • While genetics influence empathy and personality, environmental factors like childhood abuse/neglect also play a role. Genes interact with the environment, so both nature and nurture contribute to outcomes. The causes of different zero empathy types may involve different genes.

In summary, twin and family studies provide evidence that genetics contribute moderately to strongly to empathy levels and certain zero empathy or low empathy personality types, but the interplay of genes and environment is complex.

  • Three genes that affect how the brain responds to emotional expressions are discussed: the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4), genes that modulate dopamine availability, and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A gene (AVPR1A). Variations in these genes influence amygdala response to fearful or angry faces.

  • Research found the cannabinoid receptor gene 1 (CNRI) influences striatum response to happy faces, linking it to social reward processing.

  • A study by the author and colleagues looked at candidate genes associated with individual differences on the Empathy Quotient (EQ). Genes involved in sex hormones, social-emotional behavior, and neural growth were tested.

  • Four genes were found to be strongly associated with EQ scores: CYPB11B1 (involved in sex steroids), WFSI (social-emotional behavior), NTRK1 and GARBR3 (neural growth). This provided initial evidence that genetic variations impact empathy. More research is needed to understand how these genes functionally influence empathy.

  • The chapter discusses genes associated with autistic traits and empathy. Researchers had volunteers from the general population fill out questionnaires measuring empathy (EQ) and autistic traits (AQ).

  • Some genes were found to be associated only with AQ, measuring autistic traits. These included genes involved in neurodevelopment and brain patterning.

  • Other genes were strongly associated with being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (referred to as “Zero-Positive”). These included genes related to sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

  • The findings suggest different genes may influence empathy levels, autistic traits, or Autism diagnoses individually or in combination. This opens up more avenues for research.

  • While genes may influence empathy and autism, the authors emphasize it is a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Things like birth complications or an unstable home environment can impact risks of conditions like conduct disorders.

  • The chapter also discusses evidence that rudimentary precursors of empathy may exist in other animals through behaviors like food sharing, consolation of defeated members, and recognizing emotional expressions. However, empathy seems more developed and complex in humans.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • The existence of evil has typically been explained by religions as an inherent part of the universe or a battle between divine and evil forces, without seeking analytical explanations. The author aims to move the debate into the social and biological sciences.

  • The author introduces 10 new ideas into the debate on evil/lack of empathy:

  1. People vary in their natural empathy levels. Factors like genes, environment influence this.

  2. Zero empathy can be classified into zero-negative (antisocial types) and zero-positive (autism spectrum).

  3. Zero empathy conditions relate to atypicalities in the brain’s empathy circuit.

  4. Treatments should target restoring functions in the empathy circuit.

  5. Early attachment experiences result in an “internal pot of gold” that influences later empathy.

  6. There are genes associated with empathy. Both nature and nurture matter.

  7. Autism is a zero-positive form of low empathy but also involves strong pattern recognition.

8-9) Autism involves a mind striving to escape time/change which are seen as toxic.

  1. Empathy is one of the most valuable resources but is rarely prioritized.
  • The author outlines some outstanding puzzles like why different conditions involve different profiles of the empathy circuit. The passage aims to advance analytical understanding of the causes of low empathy.

  • Zero degrees of empathy could potentially be understood in terms of genetic and environmental causes underlying 10 brain regions and certain empathy genes. There may be subgroups due to differences in language/IQ dimensions between classic autism and Asperger’s.

  • Other potential forms of zero empathy include some cases of anorexia, which some argue has similarities to autism in terms of narrow interests, attention to detail, repetitive behaviors around food/body shape. This reconceptualization has treatment implications.

  • Specific delusions like erotomania could also involve an inability to be sensitive to others’ feelings, showing zero empathy.

  • An individual can exhibit more than one form of zero empathy, like being both autistic (Zero-Positive) and lacking empathy in interpersonal relationships (Type B).

  • The case study of Rekha Kumara-Baker who stabbed her daughters raises questions about how psychiatry classifies individuals and whether ‘empathy disorders’ should be a diagnostic category. While she showed no signs of mental illness per DSM-IV, her actions implied a lack of empathy, suggesting limitations in current psychiatric classification systems.

  • Imprisoning those with zero empathy who commit crimes involves moral issues around how responsible they can be held given it may be a neurological disability. This ties into broader debates around criminal responsibility.

The key points are identifying potential genetic, environmental and brain-based causes and subgroups of zero empathy, limitations in current diagnostic systems, and complex issues around diagnosing and treating related conditions as well as assigning criminal responsibility.

  • The passage discusses the “free will debate” and argues that those with zero empathy may deserve sympathy rather than punishment for their crimes, as their lack of empathy leaves them “blind” to the impact of their actions on others.

  • However, for very serious crimes like murder, imprisonment is sometimes necessary to protect society, signal disapproval of the crime, and provide justice to victims.

  • Two cases are discussed - Gary McKinnon, who hacked the Pentagon out of curiosity due to his Asperger’s, and a man with Asperger’s who inappropriately touched a woman without understanding it was wrong. The author argues prison was not appropriate for rehabilitation in these cases.

  • The concept of the “banality of evil” is introduced, referring to ordinary people committing evil acts through conformity, obedience to authority, or as small cogs in a larger system, as Hannah Arendt observed with Adolf Eichmann.

  • Multiple individuals each playing a small role can collectively enable major crimes, even if no single person is fully responsible or lacks empathy. This challenges the notion that evil requires ill intent or zero empathy. Indifference and complicity can still enable great harms.

Based on the passages, here are the key points regarding terrorists and empathy:

  • Terrorists are not necessarily lacking empathy completely. Their acts of violence may be driven by strong beliefs about protecting their land, freedom, or identity, rather than an empathy deficit alone.

  • However, in the moment of committing violent acts that harm innocent civilians, terrorists can be said to have their empathy “switched off.” They no longer care about the welfare of their victims.

  • Terrorism can arise from political contexts and deeply held beliefs, not just an inherent lack of empathy. Factors like feeling one’s land is under occupation may provoke violence more than a psychopathic disregard for others.

  • We should be cautious about condemning certain acts of violence without considering the full political and historical context. Figures like Nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin coordinated violent acts for their causes but are not universally seen as lacking empathy.

  • There are degrees of violence and harm. Throwing a stone is less severe than murder. Similarly, there may be degrees of low empathy represented in different unempathic acts.

  • In short, while terrorists do display a switching off of empathy when committing violent acts, it is an oversimplification to say they have zero empathy in all contexts or that their violence arises solely from an inherent empathy deficit rather than also deep-seated political beliefs and motivations. Both internal psychological factors and external political ones may shape terrorist actions.

Here is a summary of the key points about ood or adolescence and empathy development:

  • The adolescent brain continues developing well into a person’s 20s, until around age 25. This means adolescents may have an underdeveloped ability to feel empathy or regulate emotions.

  • In the case of Melissa Todorovic, who persuaded her boyfriend to murder someone at age 15, psychologists argued she should still be considered a developing adolescent and it’s possible her empathy was simply delayed in developing.

  • Some individuals who commit extreme crimes as adolescents may eventually develop self-control, emotion regulation and moral awareness as they age, pointing to the potential for empathy and behavior changes later in life. However, the author notes this is likely a rare occurrence.

  • When considering prison sentencing, there are differing views - some argue a life sentence is appropriate if someone took a life, while others believe even evil individuals should have a chance at rehabilitation and recognizing their mistakes.

  • The author takes the position that we should focus on trying to rehabilitate and reform individuals, no matter how heinous the crime, in order to establish empathy for the criminal and avoid further dehumanization. This opens up the possibility of changed behavior and growth in empathy over time.

In summary, the passage discusses how adolescent brain development may impact empathy and behavior, and argues for considering the potential for empathy growth even in individuals who commit severe crimes at a young age. It takes the stance that rehabilitation and reform efforts should always be made to maintain empathy and humanity.

  • During the South African Truth and Reconciliation hearings, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had to physically bite his hand to stop himself from openly weeping in response to victims’ testimonies of trauma and pain, so as not to take attention away from the victims. He stifled his own emotions to give space to acknowledge theirs.

  • Tutu recognized the white perpetrators also deserved dignity and a chance at remorse. However, he noted some like apartheid Minister James Kruger showed no remorse over deaths like Steve Biko’s.

  • The author speculates Tutu and other highly empathetic figures like Hannah have an overactive brain circuit for empathy compared to zero-empathetic people. However, too much empathy could be maladaptive by neglecting one’s own needs. Moderate empathy may be most evolutionarily adaptive.

  • Empathy is valuable but not mutually exclusive with logic. Both are needed for problem-solving. Treating others as objects while disregarding their feelings constitutes a loss of empathy.

  • The author argues empathy is an underutilized resource that could help resolve many issues if prioritized more, from family conflicts to geopolitical disputes like the Israel-Palestine conflict. Stories of empathy between bereaved parents from both sides show hope and the ability to overcome dehumanization.

  • Two fathers, Moishe and Ahmed, both lost sons and found connection through their shared pain and suffering. They now tour internationally to raise awareness and funds for charity.

  • Empathy is described as a “universal solvent” that can make any problem soluble. Applying empathy is an effective way to anticipate and resolve interpersonal conflicts and problems, from marital issues to international disputes.

  • Empathy is free and cannot oppress others like religion sometimes can. It is a better alternative to resolving problems than guns, laws or force.

  • The appendix provides tools to measure empathy through questionnaires. It also describes how to identify signs of low or negative empathy in people who may have conditions like borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder or narcissism.

  • In summary, the piece promotes empathy as a way to connect people in suffering, resolve conflicts, anddiagnose those lacking in empathy due to psychological disorders. Empathy is presented as a non-oppressive solution to interpersonal and global problems.

  • The theory of metarepresentation was developed by a University professor in the 1980s while the author worked with him in London. Metarepresentation involves having a primary representation of the world and a representation of someone else’s representation of the world.

  • The author argues that empathizing with someone’s struggle but turning away without helping still counts as empathy. Taking action to help is a third stage that is separate from the empathic response itself.

  • The main measure of empathy is the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, but it also measures other constructs like fantasizing ability that are not directly related to empathy.

  • The author proposes dividing people into seven levels of empathy based on research, though acknowledges this is an arbitrary division and empathy exists on a continuum.

  • Additional brain regions beyond the typical “empathy circuit” of ten regions, such as the posterior cingulate cortex and anterior temporal lobe, may also be involved in understanding others’ beliefs.

  • The chapters discuss topics like the author’s experiences fleeing Nazi Germany as a child, neurotransmitter systems related to personality types, laboratory studies of empathy and social behavior in monkeys, theories of autism and mindblindness, the effects of prenatal hormone exposure, genetics related to traits and disorders, and historical concepts in psychiatry.

Here are the key points from the passages:

  • Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the DSM-II but was removed from the DSM-III in 1973 after protests from the gay rights movement. There was a recognition that homosexuality is a normal variation and not an illness.

  • Stone proposed 22 types of killers with varying levels of empathy and psychopathy. Some have temporary lapses in empathy while others have a permanent lack of empathy. Predicting levels of empathy deficit may be more psychologically and neurologically meaningful than the 22 distinct types.

  • There are three well-established examples of critical periods in development: imprinting in baby chicks, cortical development in kittens deprived of visual input in the first week, and language acquisition in children deprived before age 5-10.

  • Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was diagnosed with schizophrenia but was sentenced to a normal prison after attacking another inmate. He was later transferred to a psychiatric prison after further attacks.

  • Some families of Israeli and Palestinian victims have come together through organizations like Parents Circle to build understanding despite their losses.

  • Hand in Hand is an educational model that brings together Israeli Arab and Jewish children to promote mutual understanding.

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