How do we get along?

Illustration by Henry James Garrett (New York Times)

Unless someone is completely self-absorbed and amoral, most people care for somebody, some group, or at least something besides themselves.

Research has shown that “people tend to empathize more readily with those who look, sound, and behave like themselves.” Note how the algorithm-driven thought bubbles of social media take advantage of and feed into this tendency.

Humans are not alone in being able to empathize–to feel the pain of others. Other animals can as well. Rats can do it–and are used in research to test this effect.

For example, research has found “that a white rat raised among only white rats will do nothing to save a black rat from a trap.” “Rats, like humans, can be biased in how they act on, or don’t act on, their empathy.”

But, it’s not color alone that causes the bias. “A white rat raised among only black rats would save a black rat from a trap–but would fail to save other white rats.” And, white rats raised with both black and white rats will rescue rats of both colors.

It is the social context that determines the extent of empathy–not the color and physical appearance.

What can this mean for us?

“Prejudice is not baked-in; it is the result of our ignorance.” “A failure to learn about people of different kinds”–immigrants, people who observe a different religion, who live in a different place, who speak a different language, who look different, who are of a different gender, who are a different sexual orientation, and on and on–can mean “we fail to recognize their pain as genuine pain.”

Read the article; see the illustrations (Henry James Garrett, New York Times, December 28, 2018).

See also —

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Scapegoats and self-blame

Why is it so hard to change people’s minds?

Algorithms increasingly control our lives; is that a good thing?

How do people determine right from wrong?

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