Anders Breivik: cold and calculating, yes – but insane?

Simon Baron-Cohen: Breivik probably has a pyschopath’s lack of affective empathy.


On 29 July, a week after the crime, I was asked by the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet for my reaction, as I had just published a book arguing that acts of human cruelty must by definition entail a loss of “affective” empathy.


Empathy divides into at least two components: “cognitive” and “affective”. Cognitive empathy is the drive to identify someone else’s thoughts and feelings, being able to put yourself into their shoes to imagine what is in their mind. Affective empathy, in contrast, is the drive to respond to someone else’s thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. People with autism typically have difficulties with the cognitive component (they have trouble inferring what other people might think or feel), but have intact affective empathy (it upsets them to hear of others suffering). So Breivik is unlikely to have autism.