What is NOT empathy

That is why some people feel so little empathy

We live in a fairly enlightened society in which there are only a few taboos. Nowadays anything is possible - and we enjoy this freedom. It is all the more surprising that strongly conservative movements are gaining increasing popularity. What is it that makes these politicians so attractive to many people? Neuropsychology helps us to understand these worldviews at least a little.

More empathy would be the solution!

A study by the Max Planck Institute for Social Research shows that our own feelings can distort our ability to sense empathy. When we evaluate what is happening around us, we use ourselves as a yardstick and tend to project our own emotional state onto others.

The right supramarginal gyrus in our brain is to blame for the emotionally driven egocentricity. Usually this person is responsible for recognizing and correcting this egocentricity so that we can understand the deviating behavior of our fellow human beings. It enables us to decouple ourselves from our own perception and to put ourselves in the perspective of another, to put it simply: to feel empathy. In the case of quick decisions, this correction often does not work, which can severely limit our empathy.

It is logical that in order to feel empathy one should use one's own emotions as a reference. However, this can only work if we ourselves are in a "neutral" state of sensation - or in one in which we are in a similar situation to our counterpart. Example: If we are disgusted with the bathroom that has not been cleaned for five weeks, we can understand our friend's phobia much better. On the other hand, it doesn't work so well when we're eating our favorite dish. If we understand the phobia, despite the favorite dish, the right supramarginal gyrus has helped. Unfortunately, we cannot always count on his help.

Disturbance of the supramarginal gyrus

If a disorder occurs, empathy for members of society who deviate from our own status can be greatly reduced. So as long as you share the same social status or other similarities with others, you can understand them better. If this varies, however, the ability to empathize is limited all at once.

Quite simply, when it comes to judging less influential people, powerful people have a distorted perception.

The unconscious search for similarities and confirmation

The egocentricity bias also means that we generally have a strong tendency to perceive information with which we can identify ourselves more quickly.

An interesting theory that gives us an explanation for many phenomena, such as the fear of a foreign culture. Subconsciously, one tends to prefer the experiences and information that confirm one's own point of view. Behaviors that deviate from one's own culture are perceived as threatening and frightening.

If you look at the election strategy of the AfD politicians, you quickly realize that they use this psychological effect to their advantage - just think of the refugee situation in Germany and the success of the AfD.

So we humans tend to see our own status quo as “the norm”, which explains the behavior of many conservative politicians. The views of the AfD and Trump's “America first” motto are therefore based quite simply on a malfunction of the supramarginal gyrus.


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Image source: Joao Silas under CC0 license