The Empathy Gap

What neuroscience adds and takes away

The powerful don’t empathize with those less powerful, according to new research reported in The New York Times. The reason offered is that, “when people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others.” 

This is a nice example of how cognitive neuro-scientists, focusing entirely on “objective” evidence, in this case the activity of “mirror neurons,” miss out on the common sense meaning of human behavior. An earlier explanation of this well-known effect, offered by Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton, is

 that “powerful people don’t attend well to others around them because they don’t need them in order to access important resources.” They “already have plentiful access to those.”