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Newsflash: Study Shows People Less Empathic Than Rats

Reposted with permission from SuperWeed:

A new study published in Science demonstrated startling deficiencies in empathy and reasoning among even the most highly educated and otherwise proficient people. The researchers conducting this widely publicized study placed mammals in positions of frightening frustration and then dispassionately sat back and watched to see whether other mammals would come to the rescue—thereby demonstrating their own radical lack of empathy.

When the subjects of their research (who had not consented to participate and were not free to exit the study, however extremely emotionally distressful it became) did indeed set aside self-interest to aid others, the researchers pronounced themselves astonished. Their surprise suggests a significant failure in cognitive processing, given the wealth of preexisting ethological data based on naturalistic observation, not to mention their own plentiful prior opportunities to observe empathy and altruism among non-human mammals.

Whether this failure to compute is due to neurological deficits or to emotional interference remains to be determined. These researchers were highly educated adults affiliated with the departments of psychology, psychiatry, and neurobiology at a major university; this argues against the likelihood of intellectual disability. It appears more likely that the emotion of not wanting to believe that their research subjects also have emotions inhibited their perceptual and cognitive abilities significantly. However, this is not possible to assess without further research into such habitual and highly motivated cognitive lapses.

Similarly, it is not now possible to determine whether these researchers exhibit low levels of activity in the mirror neurons thought to be responsible for empathy or to what degree that deficiency may be shared by others of their species. Although fMRI scans might help to determine the neurological substrate of the radical lack of empathy they demonstrated, we still would not know whether the deficit itself was due to physiological disability—an actual inability to experience empathy—or motivated (albeit unconscious) suppression of that ability.

Further research into these questions is urgently needed, as the cognitive deficits manifested by these scientists figure in many of Homo Sapiens most pressing problems, including the infamous self-centeredness of the “one percent” (lack of empathy) and the ongoing “controversy” over climate change (refusal or inability to draw conclusions from available facts).

1 comment to Newsflash: Study Shows People Less Empathic Than Rats

  • Jack McMillan
    …the study also suggests further research into the apparent emotive dysfunctions of the researchers as a representative sample of their larger socio-cultural population, mirroring the overall super-cognitive rationalizing by the larger subset of society, enabling a significant proportion of its population to not only fail to recognize obvious situations of distress in fellow mammals, but to actually actively participate in the creation of such obvious distress, and, in fact, in most cases, perform actions which directly cause terrible pain, suffering, and even death. Such a study would seek to explore the possible inverse correlative connection between extremes of cognitive rationalizing and the diminishment of empathic functioning. Such a study would be called upon to clearly operationalize the definition of insanity to include both cognitive and emotive elements as tests of functional connectiveness with reality. The results of this study could provide valuable insight into, and possible constructive suggestions for the amelioration of, the seeming extreme propensity of Homo Sapiens to think, feel, and act in ways that are, literally, insane. As such, acceptance of the findings of the study may, by self-fulfilling affirmation of such findings, fall prey to the same objectification-as-denial syndrome that the study would set as its beginning hypothesis and inevitably confirm. And, as such, such denial will continue to remain in full force by the denyers, at the expense of those who have not chosen the cognitive-rational path, but who have been overcome by the powers of it, and who cannot speak for themselves… but yet they do, and we choose not hear…to see…to feel…

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