The Empathy Gap Explained

Ever do something impulsively you later regret? Act out of fear or anger and then wonder “Why did I (or didn’t I) do that?” The answer might be in something called the empathy gap – a space where fast paced, intense emotion trumps our ability to receive information from our logical brain.

In a podcast episode of The Hidden Brain: You 2.0: In the Heat of the Moment, host Shankar Vedantam dives into this fascinating topic. He uses science to help explain hot and cold states – hot states are those times when intense emotions take over and we have trouble accessing our logical brain and personal value system, the home of cold states.

Using various studies to explore the empathy gap, it gives us answers as to why when asked how we would react hypothetically to a situation, we can answer with our full moral compass in place, yet faced with the actual experience of the situation we will often act differently. It can also explain why we often judge others (such as victim shaming), when we haven’t experienced it ourselves.

Understanding that an empathy gap can exist gives ourselves permission to work towards not only closing the gap, but being more open minded when it comes to situations which we are passively observing.

To listen to the full episode (I have hardly done it justice in such a short post):

It will be worth the time :)

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