Doug Contri – Empathy and Barriers to Altruism

Contri looks at the ways in which the wealthy (affluent) experience guilt and anxiety when confronted with extreme poverty, a condition that creates “defensive distortions” that appear to be (but aren’t) “rational arguments against donating generously to the extreme poor.” The solution to this problem, according to Contri, is to get the affluent more in touch with their empathy.


In essence, he argues that the affluent are not bad people (hence they do not donate more to help those most in need), but rather they are conflicted with guilt and anxiety, feelings that distance them from their empathy. Rather than condemn them, thereby creating more anxiety and guilt, we should assist them in accessing their empathy. Unfortunately, he offers little insight into how we might do this.