Empathy: Paving the road to preferential treatment with good intentions

How do empathy, accountability and fairness interact to result in preferential treatment (but with the best of intentions)? You know we are looking at this with an eye toward litigation implication…


The researchers refer to this as the chronic tension between empathy and justice. We want to alleviate the distress someone we have warm feelings toward is having. But we also need to consider fairness for all in the group or situation. How can we be both empathic and just?

The researchers suggest we need a “more nuanced and complex understanding of the relationship between empathy and fairness”.


They refer to the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination hearings and the controversy over her remarks on empathy. The researchers conclude with an eloquent turn of phrase:


“The tension between empathy and justice represents a tug of war between head and heart, two noble yet complex bases of motivation. We feel it important to recognize this tension, and to appreciate that empathy may come with pitfalls and that acts regarded as unjust may be rooted in the best of intentions.”

posted by Douglas Keene


Study:Paving the road to preferential treatment with good intentions: Empathy, accountability and fairness 

Steven L. Blader
Naomi B. Rothman