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Home > Events > Rock Colloquia Series: Empathy is a choice - The limits of empathy are more apparent than real

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Rock Colloquia Series: Empathy is a choice - The limits of empathy are more apparent than real

Empathy, or the ability to feel what others feel, is often seen as a powerful moral force. But what are its limits? Many studies find that empathy is less sensitive to large-scale suffering (e.g., natural disasters, genocides) and the suffering of racial and political out-groups. These empathy deficits have led some scholars to argue against empathy, concluding that it is an unreliable basis for moral action. In this talk, he suggest that limits on empathy are more apparent than real: what appear to be built-in “glitches" in empathy may instead be due to motivated choices we make to avoid empathy’s costs. He will present a motivational framework for understanding empathy, and will discuss evidence that seemingly fixed limits on empathy can shift depending on what we want, and choose, to feel. If empathy limits are flexible choices rather than fixed constraints, this challenges strong normative arguments against the usefulness of empathy in everyday life. He will conclude by discussing implications for ethical debates about empathy and future directions in research on empathy as a choice.
by Rob Peeler Mar 30, 2017
When Mar 16, 2017
from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Where 133 Sparks Building, University Park, PA 16802
Contact Name
Contact Phone 814-863-0314
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Registration is required for this event. Register here.

Presented by Daryl Cameron, assistant professor of psychology and research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute.

Empathy, or the ability to feel what others feel, is often seen as a powerful moral force.  But what are its limits?  Many studies find that empathy is less sensitive to large-scale suffering (e.g., natural disasters, genocides) and the suffering of racial and political out-groups.  These empathy deficits have led some scholars to argue against empathy, concluding that it is an unreliable basis for moral action.  In this talk, Dr. Cameron will suggest that limits on empathy are more apparent than real: what appear to be built-in “glitches" in empathy may instead be due to motivated choices we make to avoid empathy’s costs.  Dr. Cameron will present a motivational framework for understanding empathy, and will discuss evidence that seemingly fixed limits on empathy can shift depending on what we want, and choose, to feel.  If empathy limits are flexible choices rather than fixed constraints, this challenges strong normative arguments against the usefulness of empathy in everyday life.  Dr. Cameron will conclude by discussing implications for ethical debates about empathy and future directions in research on empathy as a choice.

Read more from Dr. Cameron regarding this topic:

Does empathy have limits?

*Note: This event is not approved SARI@PSU participation credit.