Monday, August 20, 2012

Focus on empathy gap

ScienceDaily reports:
Studies of how rats and ants rescue other members of their species do not prove that animals other than humans have empathy, according to a team led by Oxford University scientists.

Empathy -- recognizing and sharing feelings experienced by another individual -- is a key human trait and to understand its evolution numerous studies have looked for evidence of it in non-human animals. ...

In order to prove empathy any experiment would need to show that individuals changed their response if the circumstances changed; for instance moving away from a trapped individual if that reduced the trapped animal's distress. It would also need to disentangle empathy from acting simply to stop the trapped animal's stress signals -- something that can be psychologically selfish and does not need to involve empathy.

Solving the riddle of empathy would have important implications not just for the sciences but for philosophy and ethics. However, the team concludes scientists will have to come up with new, more rigorous studies to show that empathy exists outside of humans.
I wonder how many humans show true empathy. Bill Clinton used to say, "I feel your pain." But he may have been just saying that to get votes. A study shows that women on botox cannot empathize.

The NY Times reports on an empathy gap:
A bruising summertime campaign by Democrats to tarnish and define Mr. Romney before he could fully introduce himself has contributed to a significant empathy gap with Mr. Obama. It is a rising concern among Romney campaign advisers, who are feverishly working to find ways to persuade voters that even though Mr. Romney is not like them, he can still relate to their lives.
Obama himself is famous for lacking empathy. See here and here.

My theory is that people like to anthropomorphize animals and concoct rich explanations when lean ones suffice. They are convinced that animals have empathy, even tho no one can prove it.

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