Expanding Empathy Lecture Series: Emma McClure & Linda Tropp

Expanding Empathy Lecture Series: Emma McClure & Linda Tropp
May 11, 2022
– 5:00PM

The Expanding Empathy series at the Rock Ethics Institute is entering its fourth year, as a core feature of the Moral Agency and Moral Development Initiative led by Dr. Daryl Cameron. In this year’s iteration, Dr. Cameron and Dr. Martina Orlandi, Post-Doctoral Scholar in Engaged Ethics at the Rock Ethics Institute and Schreyer Honors College (as well as member of Dr. Cameron’s Empathy & Moral Psychology Lab) are co-organizing the series. To highlight the value of interdisciplinary conversation, each panel consists of one psychologist and one philosopher, who will each give a talk on a shared theme and then find points of convergence and divergence in live discussion with audience afterward.

Additionally, for each panel, Dr. Orlandi will be arranging a podcast (“N.7”) with each speaker to highlight their background, and Dr. Cameron will be organizing a meeting of the Moral Agency Workshop for informal conversation and networking at 1:00 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, May 11, on Zoom.

The overall goal of the Expanding Empathy series is to highlight the value of cutting-edge scientific and philosophical work on empathy and moral judgment, and to highlight the importance of the interdisciplinary moral psychology research being done here at Penn State as well. This year, in addition to the primary sponsorship from the Rock Ethics Institute, the series also will be receiving support from the Psychology Department, Philosophy Department, Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, and Social Science Research Institute.

Expanding Empathy 2022 main graphic


“Witnessing Microaggressions: Practicing Empathetic Resistance” by Emma McClure

Abstract: Microaggressions are small stereotypical slights that when repeated can accumulate into serious damage. Often we focus on damage to the targets of microaggressions, but here I will explore the damage to bystanders who witness microaggressions: witnessing microaggressions can corrode our empathetic capacities. I’ll consider the corrosive effects on both out-group witnesses, who do not belong to the social group targeted by the microaggression, and in-group witnesses, who do. I’ll argue that since microaggressions reinforce stereotypes and hierarchies that are already pervasive within our culture, both out-group and in-group witnesses tend to empathize with the perpetrator of microaggressions, rather than the target, and witnessing repeated microaggressions only makes it more difficult to uncover the perspective of the target and why they might object to the demeaning stereotypes embedded in microaggressions. Furthermore, this tendency to emphasize with the perpetrator becomes especially dangerous if in-group witnesses internalize their status as second-class citizens, unworthy of the same empathy as privileged perpetrators. Finally, I’ll conclude by outlining how these disturbing trends could be counteracted and our empathetic capacities restored: for out-group witnesses, by practicing taking the perspective of members of marginalized groups, and for in-group witnesses, by practicing self-empathy. 

Emma McClure (she/they) is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Saint Mary’s University (Halifax) working at the intersection of ethics, feminism, philosophy of law, and critical race theory. Her current research focuses on various topics within the ethics of conversation—ranging from moral responsibility for microaggressions to supporting trauma recovery and self-reintegration. 




“Empathy and Indifference in Predicting Race and Immigration Policy Attitudes” by Linda Tropp

Abstract: Are empathy and indifference flip sides of the same coin? Or might they play distinct roles in predicting policy attitudes? Across three survey studies, including an online sample of White Americans (Study 1), a nationally representative sample of White Americans (Study 2), and random digit dial samples of White and Black Americans in two U.S. metropolitan areas (Study 3; total N = 4155 survey respondents), we examine indifference as a unique predictor of support for policies relevant to racial equality in the U.S. and immigration to the U.S. Specifically, we test (a) whether empathic concern (see Batson et al. 2002) and indifference regarding the experiences of other racial/ethnic groups actually function as polar opposites or contribute uniquely to predicting support for these policies; and (b) if or how indifference may predict support for race and immigration policies beyond what can be accounted for by more common group-relevant predictors (e.g., intergroup threat, prejudice, motives to control prejudice, intergroup contact, social dominance), and respondent characteristics (e.g., age, gender, political orientation, education level, socio-economic status). Together, findings from the three studies suggest that indifference regarding the experiences of other racial/ethnic groups may be especially likely to predict policy support among White Americans, who represent the dominant racial group in the U.S. racial/ethnic hierarchy; further, we discuss how indifference may be a psychological luxury afforded only to those with greater societal status or privilege. 

Linda R. Tropp is Professor of Social Psychology and Faculty Associate in the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For more than two decades she has studied how members of different social groups experience contact with each other, and how group differences in status affect cross-group relations. Her work seeks to foster the dual goals of fostering positive relations between racial groups while achieving ever-greater levels of racial equality and justice. She has worked with national organizations on initiatives to promote racial integration and equity, as well as with nongovernmental organizations to evaluate interventions designed to bridge group differences in divided societies around the globe. A Fellow of the American Psychological Association, Tropp has received distinguished research and teaching awards from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the International Society of Political Psychology. Dr. Tropp is coauthor of When Groups Meet: The Dynamics of Intergroup Contact (2011) and editor of several books, including Moving Beyond Prejudice Reduction: Pathways to Positive Intergroup Relations (2011), the Oxford Handbook of Intergroup Conflict (2012), and Making Research Matter: A Psychologist’s Guide to Public Engagement (2018).  

Topic(s): Expanding Empathy Lecture Series, General, Health, Public Life