Circles of Empathy: Why We Care About People To Different Degrees

We don’t often think about it this way, but empathy is a limited resource. Our “circles of empathy” show us who we tend to invest this resource in the most.

Naturally you can empathize with anyone if given the chance. Anyone can theoretically become a friend.

Of course it helps if you have met the person. Or at the very least, you can attach an identity to them like a name or a face. Psychologists sometimes call this the “identifiable victim effect.”

Basically, it’s far easier to empathize with people who we can personally identify (with at least a name or a face), rather than if they are some abstraction (like a number or a statistic).

Think about it this way: When you hear about 100 strangers dying from some other part of the world vs. 1000 strangers dying, your empathetic response doesn’t usually become 10x more intense, even though there are 10x as many deaths.

by Steven Handel