The Limits Of Empathy

A recent paper (‘Is Empathy Necessary for Morality?’ by Jesse Prinz – available in full-text pdf online) examines the link between feeling empathy (the ability to feel what others are feeling), and actually taking action to help others. What previous studies found was that when almost no effort was required, empathy was (weakly) correlated with taking action on behalf of others.

 

However, as soon as some effort was required (even something as minor as crossing the street to help someone) the ability of empathy to motivate pretty much disappeared. Interestingly, ‘attention’ and ‘concern’ (i.e. ‘paying attention’ and ‘giving a hoot’) were more strongly correlated with taking action for others than empathy.

 

by Miriam E. Mendelson,