Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Evidence that Power Decreases Empathy

The Times has yet another news story on yet another piece of neuroscience suggesting that the feeling of power makes people less empathic. In this case, the study showed that people put in power positions had less activity in their mirror neurons, the ones that virtually imitate the physical actions of others.

I have no opinion about the validity of this study, or about the others that show similar things. After all, these laboratory setups are not much at all like the life in a family, a corporation, or a country. And yet I feel certain that the phenomenon they document is real: powerful people really do feel no empathy for those they lord over. How else could CEOs pay themselves millions while asking their employees to subsist on $10 an hour?

It may be that this mechanism has some sort of evolutionary importance, allowing commanders to send men into battle or some such. But in modern capitalism it only encourages looting. If you think that executives will ever run companies in anyone's interest but their own, you are a fool. Democracy forces politicians to at least gesture in the direction of caring, but I put no trust in their promises. They will only act in our interests if we understand those interests and demand that our leaders follow them.

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