Is This a Cure for War and Domestic Violence?by Robert A. Yourell, MA | March 24, 2008
Don’t you think empathy is the ideal cure for war and domestic violence? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could teach empathy to the whole world today, right now? Well, here’s a step in that direction. A set of seven studies explored ways that we can feel more empathic and less vengeful by being exposed to information and perspectives about ourselves. The researchers looked at this from different angles. For example, recalling a similar offense on their own part caused people to feel more understanding toward transgressors. The press release says,
The John Templeton Foundation-supported studies used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive.
The press release from Case Western Reserve said,
The researchers found that people of both genders are more forgiving when they see themselves as capable of committing a similar action to the offender’s; it tends to make the offense seem smaller. Seeing capability also increases empathic understanding of the offense and causes people to feel more similar to the offenders.
Men were more likely to feel vengeful toward various types of perpetrators, but they made the most movement toward empathy when they were exposed to this kind of empathy-building information. Apparently, this is because women were generally more conditioned to experience this kind of empathy in the first place. When exposed to the empathy-building information, they were less likely to move more toward empathy.
According to the press release,
… prior studies have shown that at baseline (without any interventions), men tend to be more vengeful than women, who have been taught from childhood to put themselves ‘in the shoes of others’ and empathize with them.
The press release says that they even looked at reactions to the 9/11 attackers. Initially people, especially men, were all for shooting terrorists on sight or providing the death penalty as soon as they are convicted. However,
When people could envision their own government committing acts similar to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful. …they were more supportive of negotiations and economic aid.
Something tells me that these subjects weren’t sociopaths with tremendous incentives for sicking populations on each other to tear each other apart. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so quick to call names if I imagined myself as president, committing some of the same sins. Hmmm. So far, it isn’t working. Not too long ago, I heard a newscaster for a Denver television station say that, “Hugo Chavez hates America.” This was not FoxNews, it was a mainstream, prime time broadcast. American media are complicit in turning their viewers toward hate and war. We must KILL them!
Oh, wait. I got carried away there for a minute. Okay, I’m visualizing myself as a well-paid media prostitute, promoting wars that will kill hundreds of thousands of people. No good. I guess I’ll have to stick with thinking about transgressions I actually have made myself, and see how that goes.
Exline, J.J., Baumeister, R.F., Zell, A.L., Kraft, A.J., Witvliet, C.V. (2008). Not so innocent: Does seeing one’s own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(3), 495-515. DOI: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.115
Case Western Reserve (2008) Men Have A Harder Time Forgiving Than Women Do. Press Release.
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