Istanbul and the empathy gap: Why was the West’s response muted compared to Paris or Brussels?

Our brains are wired to feel more empathy for people who look like us. Luckily, we’re capable of closing the gap


Studies done on the brain are revealing here. Observing the pain of others stimulates sensory and emotional areas of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex and insula cortex) that have been associated with empathy. Research using functional MRI (fMRI) to assess brain activity by changes in blood flow has shown that activation of these areas is contingent on the race of the observed person, such that observing someone of one’s own race in pain leads to greater activity in these empathy centers of the brain compared to a person of a different race.


People will be more empathetic towards the suffering of someone from their own race or ethnic group. Death of an own-race person from a terrorist attack is thus more likely to be viewed as a tragedy as opposed to the death of an other-race person from a similar cause.


Yet fortunately, our ability to empathize is entirely capable of overcoming the confines of race.