It’s hard for powerful people to feel empathy.
The human brain can be exquisitely attuned to other people, thanks in part to its so-called mirror system. The mirror system is composed of a network of brain regions that become active both when you perform an action (say, squeezing a rubber ball in your hand) and when you observe someone elsewho performs the same action (squeezing a rubber ball in his hand).
Our brains appear to be able to intimately resonate with others’ actions, and this process may allow us not only to understand what they are doing, but also, in some sense, to experience it ourselves — i.e., to empathize.
In our study, we induced a set of participants to temporarily feel varying levels of power by asking them to write a brief essay about a moment in their lives.
Does this mean that the powerful are
heartless beings incapable of empathy?
by Michael Inzlicht is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.