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Affective Empathy, An Evolutionary Mistake?
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In a previous post, I asked, “How universal is empathy?” The question is tricky because empathy has three components:

1. pro-social behavior – willingness to help people out, hospitality to strangers, acts of compassion.

2. cognitive empathy – capacity to see things from another person’s perspective and to understand how he or she feels.

3. affective or emotional empathy – capacity not only to understand how another person feels but also to experience those feelings involuntarily and to respond appropriately. Failure to help a person in distress can trigger a self-destructive sequence: anguish, depression, suicidal ideation.

Pro-social behavior is very widespread among humans and may even be universal. It isn’t unconditional, however. It can be used strategically and is often influenced by previous experiences with the person in question.

Cognitive empathy seems much less universal. In Oceanic cultures, for instance, there is both an unwillingness and an inability to know what other people feel. A person’s inner feelings are said to be private and unknowable (Lepowski, 2011).

Affective empathy has an even more restricted range. If the range of empathic guilt is indicative, it may reach its highest incidences in the “guilt cultures” of northwestern Europe. In these cultures, guilt outweighs shame as a way to enforce social rules. What’s the difference between the two? You feel shame when someone from your community sees you breaking a rule. With guilt, no witnesses are needed. You feel guilty when no else is watching or even when you merely think of breaking the rule.

Until recently, empathy has been studied only in Western populations, with the result that it is often assumed to have the same characteristics everywhere, at least potentially. This shortcoming was noted in a Hong Kong study: “A limitation of the existing literature on empathy in the social work context is that most of the existing studies on empathy are Western studies, and there are very few empirical studies of empathy in Chinese populations” (Siu and Shek, 2005)

When Siu and Shek (2005) studied empathy in a Chinese sample ranging from 18 to 29 years of age, they found that the participants made little distinction between cognitive empathy and affective (emotional) empathy. These two components seemed to be weakly differentiated from each other. The authors attributed this finding to “cultural differences” “Chinese people might not perceive the items from the two dimensions as too different in nature.” The authors went on to note that “there are still debates concerning the boundaries of emotional and cognitive processes underlying empathy” and that “the causal relationships between cognitive and emotional processing underlying empathy are not simple or unidirectional.”

In short, the Chinese participants could see things from another person’s perspective and understand how that person felt. There is much less indication, however, that they involuntarily experienced the feelings of other people, especially feelings of distress. This is not to say they were incapable of such emotion transference, but rather that it seems limited in scope, perhaps being confined to family members and not extended to strangers.

In general, empathy is perceived in China as a moral duty and not as an involuntary emotional response. The authors underline this point when they discuss relevant beliefs in their culture:

These include the cultural beliefs of “qi suo bu yu, wu shi yu ren” (do not do unto others that you would not wish others to do on you), “jiang xin bi ji” (compare people’s hearts with your own), “she shen chu di” (put yourself into other people’s position), and “shen tong gan shou” (experiencing the experience of other people). With the emphases on collectivism and familism (Yang, 1981), taking the views of others is an essential duty, and the lack of consideration to others’ perspectives is generally regarded as a lack of virtue in the Chinese culture (Wong, 1998). (Siu and Shek, 2005)

From cognitive empathy to affective empathy: the how and why

In humans, empathy seems to have differentiated progressively into its three components, with pro-social behavior being the oldest and most widespread one, followed by cognitive empathy and, finally, affective empathy.

This kind of mental evolution has been certainly possible in our species:

First, all three components display moderate to high heritability, especially the last one, i.e., 68% (Chakrabarti and Baron-Cohen, 2013). There has thus been a potential for gene-culture co-evolution.

Second, gene-culture co-evolution seems to have been widespread. About 10,000 years ago, human genetic evolution accelerated by over a hundred-fold, yet by that time our ancestors had colonized this planet from the tropics to the arctic (Hawks et al., 2007). They were evolving primarily in response to different cultural environments, and only secondarily to different physical environments.

Third, people have thus been selected for their ability to function in a certain cultural environment, just as they have been selected for their ability to function in heat or cold.

That answers the “how” question, but what about the “why”? Why was affective empathy more advantageous at the northwestern end of Eurasia? Together with empathic guilt, it may be part of a larger behavioral adaptation called the Western European Marriage Pattern, which seems to reflect a culture where kinship ties are relatively weak and thus insufficient to enforce rules of correct behavior.

The WEMP predominates north and west of an imaginary line running from Trieste to St. Petersburg and has the following general characteristics:

– men and women tend to marry relatively late and many never marry

– children usually leave the family to form new households

– a high proportion of non-kin circulate among different households (Hajnal, 1965)

This zone of relatively weak kinship existed before the Black Death of the 14th century and is attested by fragmentary evidence going back to the 9th century and even earlier (Hallam, 1985; Seccombe, 1992, p. 94). I suspect its origins go back to a unique Mesolithic culture that once existed along the North Sea and the Baltic (Price, 1991). At that time, an abundance of marine resources drew people to the coast each year for fishing, sealing, and shellfish collecting, thus creating large but fluid settlements unlike anything seen in other hunter-gatherers. Social interactions would have largely involved non-kin, and there would have thus been strong selection for mechanisms that could enforce social rules in the absence of kin obligations.


Through their high capacity for affective empathy and empathic guilt, these Northwest Europeans had an edge in adapting to later cultural environments that would be structured not by kinship but by other ways of organizing social relations: the State, ideology, and the market economy.

This has been one path that leads to advanced societies, but it is not the only one. East Asian societies have pursued a similar path of cultural evolution while having relatively low levels of affective empathy and empathic guilt. They seem to have done so by relying more on external means of behavior control (shaming, family discipline, community surveillance) and by building on cognitive empathy through learned notions of moral duty.

Meanwhile, Northwest European societies have had their capacity for empathy pushed to the limit, as seen in the commonly heard term “aid fatigue.” And there is no easy way to turn it off. The only real way is to convince oneself that the object of empathy is morally worthless.

Was it all an evolutionary mistake? Time will tell.


Chakrabarti, B. and S. Baron-Cohen. (2013). Understanding the genetics of empathy and the autistic spectrum, in S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, M. Lombardo. (eds). Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from Developmental Social Neuroscience, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hajnal, J. (1965). European marriage pattern in historical perspective. In D.V. Glass and D.E.C. Eversley (eds). Population in History, Arnold, London.

Hallam, H.E. (1985). Age at first marriage and age at death in the Lincolnshire Fenland, 1252-1478, Population Studies, 39, 55-69.

Hawks, J., E.T. Wang, G.M. Cochran, H.C. Harpending,& R.K. Moyzis. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 104, 20753-20758.

Lepowsky, M. (2011). The boundaries of personhood, the problem of empathy, and “the native’s point of view” in the outer islands, in D.W. Hollan, C. J. Throop (eds).The Anthropology of Empathy: Experiencing the Lives of Others in Pacific Societies, (pp. 43-68), New York: Berghahn.

Price, T.D. (1991). The Mesolithic of Northern Europe, Annual Review of Anthropology, 20, 211-233.

Seccombe, W. (1992). A Millennium of Family Change. Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe, London: Verso.

Siu, A.M.H. and D.T. L. Shek. (2005). Validation of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in a Chinese Context, Research on Social Work Practice, 15, 118-126.

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
Of Related Interest
Did the Christian doctrine of original sin create the guilt cultures of Northwest Europe? Or did the arrow of causality...
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Sounds much like what Kevin Macdonald talks about – altruistic punishment.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  2. Andy says:

    Empathy: the conscious sympathetic awareness of life beyond our own.

    Empathy is a true natural brain centered emotion – different cultures empathize different emotions to their children. The emotion “empathy” has to be stimulate by parents and culture, or it will become dormant.

    In Western culture the intellectual idea that “life is sacred” flows out of our biologically created emotional empathic nature. It is good that people are digging onto the make-up of empathy.

  3. MEH 0910 says:

    The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola:

    The most striking thing about the virus is the way in which it propagates. True, through bodily fluids, but to suggest as much is to ignore the conditions under which bodily contact occurs. Instead, the mechanism Ebola exploits is far more insidious. This virus preys on care and love, piggybacking on the deepest, most distinctively human virtues. Affected parties are almost all medical professionals and family members, snared by Ebola while in the business of caring for their fellow humans. More strikingly, 75 percent of Ebola victims are women, people who do much of the care work throughout Africa and the rest of the world. In short, Ebola parasitizes our humanity.

    I think it would follow that Ebola is selecting against this kind of empathy.

  4. Numinous says:

    A very informative post!

    You talk a lot about Western Europe and Eastern Asia, but what about other cultures? India was the birthplace of Jainism and Buddhism (arguably that makes India the birthplace of pacifism and vegetarianism as well.) Aren’t these signs of a culture where affective empathy is widespread? Yet India today is held up as a prime example of a shame culture where empathy is lacking. So what happened?

    I was born and raised in India (and then spent a large part of my adult life in the West), and in my personal experience, empathy in Indian society is exactly the opposite of what it is in Chinese society, according to this article. Indians have a hard time expressing cognitive empathy but not feeling affective empathy. But then, I’m not a sociologist, and my experiences may not be truly representative.

    • Replies: @Andy
  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Professor KMac is Great!

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Northeast Asians have both cold and hot temperature adaptations.

  7. Interesting, but I am not convinced that culture selects genes. I am more inclined to believe that culture conditions minds and behavior, and thus is self-replicating, as human generations overlap. Cultural drift under environmental pressure can easily alter displayed “empathic” behavior patterns.

    I think my view is supported by the premise that “empathy” subdivides into “affective”, “cognitive”, and in-group social support (“pro-social behavior”). I can’t see a gene-complex that is, at least in the Darwinian context, favoring reproductive success, subdividing into 3 distinct types of behavior. That characteristic says “culture” all the way.

    • Replies: @viking
  8. Andy says:

    arguably that makes India the birthplace of pacifism – what happened?

    Empathy as expressed in the West is not pacifist. Clearly we all care about ourselves – we are not laid back about our future – we put effort into our wellbeing. To “love your neighbor as you love yourself” is a clear statement of empathy towards others – this requires effort.

    Good is not the absence of bad – an empathic world requires concerted effort. Empathy for our fellow human beings as express in the private philosophical Christian West is the reason for its advancement.

    • Replies: @Numinous
  9. KenH says:

    Effective/emotional empathy is what KMac calls pathological altruism towards non-white European racial and ethnic groups. This racial trait may have given Europeans an evolutionary advantage when they lived only among themselves in mono-racial societies, but it is now devolutionary as it is leading to our diminution and disappearance throughout the Western world since it’s lowering our birth rate and has the effect of transferring resources needed for survival to the third world interlopers while accepting large numbers of them into our living space.

    Outside of the Western world one is judged strictly by their race, ethnicity or religion, or a combination thereof. The dominant racial or religious group in pluralistic nations often marginalizes other groups. Only in the decadent west with its racial guilt and suicidal ideals can non-whites achieve parity with the white natives and even become immune from law enforcement when they victimize the dominant (white) group such as in Rotherham, England or when they riot in France and other Western European nations.

    As whites continue to decrease in numbers and lose political power in their ancestral homelands, they will be treated to some harsh realities about third world racial groups who they’ve been taught to revere and see as equals and much like themselves.

    • Replies: @Numinous
  10. Priss Factor [AKA "Andrea Ostrov Letania"] says:

    #1 or pro-social behavior has a word for it: sympathy or altruism.

    I think only #2 is true empathy. Everyone has this empathy to some degree either for reasons of sympathy or manipulation. If you can’t feel the hurt of others, you aren’t capable of sympathy, and without sympathy, you wouldn’t be human. So, empathy may be said to precede sympathy. But one may empathize–read the hearts and minds of others–to gain power or advantage over them.

    As for #3, affective empathy, this is tricky business.
    Actually, #2 is tricky business too because we can never be sure what other people are thinking or feeling. After all, people are natural hide-and-seekers. A person may pretend to think or feel something without really thinking or feeling it. Or a person may believe he’s really like ‘this’ when he’s really like ‘that’; people have a tendency to fool themselves and not know their true selves.

    #2 is useful because of its element of caution. It makes us want to understand others but also mindful of the fact that it’s never easy to know what’s really in the hearts and minds of others.
    The Trojans thought they understood the hearts and minds of Greeks when they accepted the peace offering of the Trojan Horse, but boy oh boy, were they wrong!
    In THE GODFATHER, Michael Corleone tries to read the minds of other people to get the edge on them. He makes Carlo–his brother-in-law–trust him as a ‘right-hand man’, but Carlo was being played.

    The problem with #3 empathy–affective empathy–is that it tends toward naivete and faith. It assumes that, for example, all those poor blacks in Africa are wonderful people who just want peace, justice, love, and brotherhood. It’s like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s idiotic UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. She didn’t know much about black reality in the South, but she was so sure that most Negroes were so saintly and nice and kindly. It’s like the big Negro in GREEN MILE with a tiny white mouse.
    This isn’t real empathy because there’s no real effort to understand others or feel what they’re thinking. Rather, it projects one’s moral-emotional fantasies on others.

    I think the problem of Northern Europe is it was historically less threatened than other parts of the world. Sure, Northern folks fought many wars, and they’d been invaded by Romans at one time. But for most of Northern European history, it was a homogeneous affair. Also, even though Christianity arrived in the North much later than in the South, it had a greater impact in the North because of genetic and cultural factors. Having evolved in colder climes, Northern Soul tended to be temperamentally narrower and less wily. Also, because Northern barbarism was a form of low paganism, it was easily swept aside for the coming of the Christian order. It gave up the original pagan wife for the new Christian wife.

    In contrast, Southern Europeans, though white, having developed in warmer climes, were more temperamental and oily and wily and haggly-waggly. Also, they mixed somewhat with Near Eastern and even with some North African folks, so they took on some attributes of non-Europeans.
    Northern Europeans can get angry and aggressive, but it’s in a more straightforward head-butting way whereas Greeks and Italians flare up in more flamboyant tantrum-like ways. It’s like an angry Irishman wants to knock you out right away whereas an Italian make a lot of gestures and try to insult you as much as possible before getting down to business.

    But also, Southern Europe created a very sophisticated form of paganism, indeed so glorious that Christianity couldn’t wipe it all out. Southern Europeans took on the new Christian wife but still kept the pagan wife around as a mistress. So, southern Europeans had more of a two-track mind and two-faced sensibility: less earnestly moralist.
    In contrast, as the low pagan cultures of the North were pretty much swept aside, Christianity grew on more fertile soil cleared of other plants and weeds. So, Northern European folks tend to have more one-track minds. Emotionally and spiritually, they are more earnest and committed to their ethos. Also, prior to massive immigration of recent yrs, Northern Europe had hardly been invaded by any group. Sometimes, Northerners battled Northerners, but it was mostly white protestants bashing white protestants, so there was a sense of stability and continuity whichever side won. Due to this cultural stability, Northern Europeans became more committed to their moral value and world-view. Such outlooks would have been more difficult to maintain if Northern Europe had been periodically invaded by Muslim Arabs or Mongol Asians. (When one’s own survival can be taken for granted, a moral person might sympathize and worry about other peoples. But when one’s own survival and well-being are threatened, people tend to be tribal than moral. This is why Western elites, in their privileged bubbles, tend to be more ‘morally committed’ than the masses. While the masses feel the brunt of the problems of diversity at the street level, the privileged elites can take their well-being and advantages for granted. Since Northwestern European[and Northeastern American] mentality/morality developed in a world where the well-being of whites could be taken for granted[indeed as if permanently], they developed a tendency to fixate on the well-being of other peoples. In the 20th century, the greatest threat to their well-being came not from Africa, Asia, or the Middle East but from fellow Northern Europeans–the Nazi Germans–, and that only made them feel that their greatest enemy/evil was within their white selves.)

    Northern Europe developed a kind of paradox of power. It became the most powerful center of the world(and northern European settlers of North America far outshone the southern European settlers of Latin America), but it also became the most moralistic and reformist part of the world.
    We generally associate power with ruthlessness, greed, ambition, aggression, and domination.
    We generally associate morality with forgiveness, peace, redemption, salvation, apology, remorse, and etc.
    The great Caesars were all about power. They were ruthless.
    Jesus, who ever forgave those who killed Him, was all about morality. He was compassionate. But He got whupped and killed real bad.
    It’s as if…
    to win, you gotta be bad.
    to be good, you gotta be willing to lose.

    Though man is naturally moral, he has always had a troubled relationship with morality since too much goodiness could lead to doubt and defeat. One could doubt one’s side. One might embrace defeat to atone for one’s sins. One might choose to trust the enemy(as distrust of fellow man might seem nasty and paranoid), as Trojans did in the spirit of good will.
    Morality has a soft side, and soft loses to hardness.

    And yet, within a cohesive community, morality can increase the power by having people obey laws, be mindful, and act responsible. If a people of a community work hard, are dutiful to fellow citizens, and willing to pay the price for wrongdoing–and punish the wrongdoers–, then right-is-might gains the upperhand over might-is-right. Furthermore, right-is-might in such a settling can make the community even mightier because everyone works and functions more responsibly. After all, if everyone is just out for himself, social order will be endangered.

    In northern Europe, there was relative homogeneity, stability, and cohesion. And there was greater cultural unity because old pagan cultures had pretty much been wiped out. Also, everyone looked more alike, with pale skin.
    It was a truly Christian order, especially with the rise of Protestantism that emphasized the matter of the heart over the corrupt machinations of the Vatican. And since Northern Europe, for the most part, faced no threats from outside Europe(in contrast Russia faced Asiatic and Muslim armies, and Southern Europe had to contend with Turks, North Africans, Persians, and etc.), it could expand on it moral values with greater confidence and commitment.

    So the power of right and the power of might came to be conflated in the North. In other parts of the world, people were more likely to think in terms of “either we choose the right(and lose) or the might(and win).” After all, when a people are threatened by external forces, morality can become a liability. Even the ‘good’ democratic US did horrible things during WWII in order to win after Pearl Harbor was attacked. When one’s survival is threatened, higher morality is and must be a casualty.

    It’s like it was easier for people in Northeast to bitch about the moral failings of whites in the south(in relation to blacks) and whites in the west(in relation to Indians). White Americans in the Northeast didn’t have to worry about Negro rebellions/thugs and Indian savages/raiders.
    Northwestern Europe was like Northeastern White America. Today, the Deep South and the SW tend to have whites who are more in survivalist-mode since they have to deal with large numbers of non-whites. In contrast, some of the most Liberal and PC-sanctimonious white folks are to be found in mostly white places like Vermont, Maine, and cities like Portland.

    The mistake that white Liberals make is they apply the formula of right-leads-to-might that works in their own little world to the entire world. It’s true that Northwestern Europe and white northern parts of America(and the whiter cities) have done well because of the combination of rule of law, reformism, productivity, and hard work. By doing things right, they gained greater might. So far so good, whether it’s in Seattle or Stockholm. Good = riches and power.

    The problem is they then project this formula on non-white nations where people could be culturally backward, genetically problematic(less intelligent and/or more aggressive in temperament), and/or politically hostile to whites.
    But such naivete is the product of Northern Europeans having developed in both great isolation from and great communication with the rest of world. Because of their success in navigation and commerce, the British and the Dutch came in contact with many parts of the world.
    Nevertheless, until relatively recently, most Northern Europe remained culturally and demographically homogeneous.
    So, what happened in the hearts and minds of Northern Europeans was a combination of larger world-awareness and cultural-moral earnestness borne of insularity. Through books, magazines, photos, and film, they got to know more about the world than any other people did. And yet, because their own societies were culturally and morally so cohesive, they tried to naively project their own moral-social formula on other peoples who were substantially different in culture, history, geography, and genetics. It’s not surprising that some of the most energetic, devoted, and naive missionaries to China came from places like Northeastern America that was very much like Northwestern Europe.

    Still, it must be said that even ‘affective empathy’ isn’t universal in its application. After all, if indeed Northern Europeans feel so ‘guilty’ about miseries around the world, how come they care so much about some peoples but almost nothing for other peoples?
    Why do they care so much about black Africans but care far less about Palestinians or Christian Arabs who’ve faced all sorts of horrors thanks to US intervention?
    Why is there sympathy for Tibetans but far less for Uighurs?
    Why was there more outrage over the relatively mild Apartheid–without which South Africa could never have developed a first world economy as black rule would have dominated S. Africa in the 50s or 60s–than over total horrors like the genocide in Rwanda?
    Why was there no sympathy for Russians whose lives were ruined by so-called ‘market reforms’ of the 1990s engineered by Jewish oligarchs in Russia and the US?
    Why is there so much sympathy for homos but no demand for the respect of incest-sexuals?

    So, this thing called affective empathy can easily be turned on and off depending on who controls the academia and media. Since Jews, homos, and Liberals control much of the media/academia, they get to decide which peoples are deserving of ‘affective empathy’. Recently, the Kiev government shelled many towns in Eastern Ukraine, killing a good number of innocent civilians. Well, where is the outrage? Where is the affective empathy for the victims? Or for the victims who were burned alive in some Ukrainian town?
    So many white farmers and white people in general have been raped, robbed, and murdered by blacks in South Africa. Where is the affective empathy for them?

    Since NATO intervention in Libya, the nation has been turned into a hell and misery reigns everywhere, but where is the moral concern/outrage over the outcome among most Northern Europeans? Where is their affective empathy?
    Why is there so much outcry over the killing of whales but none about the killing of pigs when pigs are among the most intelligent animals? Why do so many caring Northern Europeans who would never eat dog or whale happily munch on pork?

    If Northern Europeans are really into the virtue of affective empathy, they should be wailing 24/7 about all the miseries around the world. But most of them prefer to have a good time with their hedonistic lifestyles. Their affective sympathy is narrowly reserved ONLY for those people favored by the globalist media/academia: Jews, homos, and Negroes mostly.

    When US-backed Chilean military overthrew Allende and a few thousand died, there was an outcry all over the world, and we still hear about the evil of what happened.
    Recently, the US-backed Egyptian military used far bloodier means to overthrow the democratically elected government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, but where was the moral outrage? Where was the affective empathy for all those dead Muslims who stood up for a democratically elected government?

    So, while the emotional phenomenon of Northern affective sympathy may be real enough, it only works according to how it’s manipulated and programmed by the powers-that-be.
    So, instead of focusing on the problem of affective empathy, we should ask WHO HAS THE MEANS AND POWER TO CONTROL THE EMOTIONS OF THE MASSES?

    It’s like the military. The role of soldiers is to follow orders. Soldiers can be ordered to fight in evil wars or ordered to fight in good wars(against evil). In both cases, soldiers follow orders.

    In the case of the military that fought an evil war, should we blame the very idea of the military, i.e. soldiers having to obey orders? But how can any military function without soldiers following orders?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask WHO GAVE THE ORDERS TO THE SOLDIERS TO COMMIT EVIL?
    The problem of the Iraq War wasn’t with US soldiers. It was with those with power in media and government who pushed the nation into war and ordered US soldiers invade a nation that didn’t attack us.

    The problem of WWII wasn’t that the German military was evil. It did evil things but only because it followed the orders of an evil man. But then, all militaries work like that.

    Same goes for ‘affective empathy’. It can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. Why is so much of Northern European affective empathy misused and misdirected?
    Well, ask yourself who controls the media and academia? Who finances and funds movies like GREEN MILE? Who promotes the cult of personality of scuzzo characters like MLK and Mandela?

    The problem isn’t soldiers following orders but who’s giving the orders.
    The problem isn’t Northwestern Europeans having moral sense but who’s manipulating that moral sense.

    • Replies: @Unzerker
    , @Ivy
  11. Numinous says:

    Outside of the Western world one is judged strictly by their race, ethnicity or religion, or a combination thereof.

    That was the case in the West as well until 50 or so years ago, and definitely before WW II. Don’t project 21st century liberal values onto the past.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @KenH
  12. Numinous says:

    I am confused. Are you saying Jesus Christ and his teachings were not pacifist in nature? If so, I’ll flat out say you are wrong. And as I happen to agree with you that the West’s empathy is not grounded in pacifism, so then that empathy cannot be grounded in the Christian faith, can it? And nothing in your comment indicates why Christian empathy is fundamentally different from Buddhist empathy (but you seem to be asserting that, unless I am mistaken.) I’m not saying there is no difference; it’s just that the difference, if it exists, is not apparent to me.

    • Replies: @Andy
  13. rod1963 says:

    Mr. Frost wrote:
    “Meanwhile, Northwest European societies have had their capacity for empathy pushed to the limit, as seen in the commonly heard term “aid fatigue.” And there is no easy way to turn it off. The only real way is to convince oneself that the object of empathy is morally worthless.”

    This “aid fatigue” was and is a function of white liberals guilt tripping mainstream whites into to helping people who can’t help themselves(mostly blacks). To turn it off is easy, simply ignore the liberals peddling the guilt trip and to accept the poor and sick will always be with us no matter what we do. Africa itself is proof positive of this, Europe and the U.S. have poured obscene amounts of money into a Africa and all it did was allow the Africans to double their population and still remain dysfunctional as ever and export their people to the West where the Liberals force the rest of the whites to take care of them(via taxes).

    With people like these and others you need to be prudent in giving them any sort of aid. You have to think it through before engaging your emotions. It’s too easy to have empathy and help people and thereby creating a moral hazard in the process like we have done in Africa or Afghanistan. Some groups you just can’t help, because their culture is dysfunctional in the extreme and/or their IQ is just too low. In short you can’t fix stupid.

    That said empathy is a useful attribute for a civilization but it only works with like minded people. It doesn’t work when you introduce predatory peoples like blacks, Muslims and Asians into the mix who perceive empathy as a weakness. Then it’s much like introducing a alien life form in a ecosystem that has no defense against such as the Cane toad into Australia, the native fauna starts dying out.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  14. Andy says:

    Jesus did say to “love your enemy” – this is a pacifist idea.

    Still – it is easy to say that Western philosophy and culture is more aggressively empathic then is Eastern philosophy. Democracy (an empathic method of human organization) came out of the West. To say that Christian philosophy had no role in that would be unjust.

    If I may, doesn’t Easter philosophy have more to do more with seeking harmony with nature then interest in building a future. In the West the philosophical goal is to build a better future for all. An very empathic notion.

    There is nothing wrong in the private employment of the empathic idealistic Christian philosophy for living. Of course we cannot say that of many religious Christians and the tribal Western state.

    The thinking on Christianity has to evolve – we have to see the good. For humanity to move forward it has to begin to intellectually separate the Christian philosophy for living from its religious patrimony.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Jewish cultural Marxism changed all this, greatly weakening western people.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    An excellent post, sir.

  17. The why of evolution of such excessive empathy is interesting. Especially in the context of considering whether it is a maladaptive in contemporary times. I would suggest one possibility of “why” was not about inter-human relationships at all, but was in fact an adaptation that made for more effective animal husbandry. Feeling the pain of cold cows, hungry chickens, thirsty horses, tired dogs would probably help one take better care of the same. Lacking an animal-specific empathy gene, our own general empathy gene got pumped up, so that along the way to feeling the pain of our pigs, we also feel the pain of a stranger lying on the road. Of course, if such an adaptation were beneficial in NW Europe, it should be beneficial universally. But, perhaps the feature is especially important for cattle husbandry. If Farmer Jones feels his cow’s hunger or cares about her yearning for a particular food, is he rewarded with 10% more milk?
    Some of the underpinnings of this could be tested:
    -Do ethnically NW Europeans exhibit more empathy toward animals than other ethnics?
    -Is empathy positively correlated with successful animal husbandry, especially in terms of increasing yields from product producing animals like cattle, goats, chickens and sheep?
    -Do historic production/consumption patterns show that NW Europeans generated greater yields and or were more likely to use animals for production than for consumption (ie do NWEs tend to eat a higher ratio of egg/chicken).

    • Replies: @Rosenmops
  18. KenH says:

    Yes captain obvious, and that was left unstated since I assumed most readers of this article were historically literate enough to realize that fact and the radical revolution in thought throughout the West post WWII.

  19. Unzerker says:
    @Priss Factor

    But also, Southern Europe created a very sophisticated form of paganism, indeed so glorious that Christianity couldn’t wipe it all out.
    In contrast, as the low pagan cultures of the North were pretty much swept aside

    Really? I would think it’s the other way around.

    The days of the week are named after Germanic gods. Christmas is basically the Northern European celebration of solstice, the moment the days start to become longer again. And Easter, at least the way we celebrate it in the West, is more a pagan spring fertility celebration than anything else.

    In the past I’ve read about Mythras influences in Christianity, but I’ve forgotten what it actually was, because it’s not nearly as in your face as Germanic pagan influences.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  20. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “In short, the Chinese participants could see things from another person’s perspective and understand how that person felt. There is much less indication, however, that they involuntarily experienced the feelings of other people, especially feelings of distress. This is not to say they were incapable of such emotion transference, but rather that it seems limited in scope, perhaps being confined to family members and not extended to strangers.”

    Come on.

    You can’t just make the claim that their involuntary empathy “seemed limited in scope”, without elaborating in a sentence of methodology how this was indicated.

    A lack of differentiation between involuntary, affective empathy and cognitive empathy does not in itself imply a lack of involuntary empathy. If there’s a psychometric component measuring that East Asians scored lower on involuntary empathy, you should state this, and perhaps use a sentence to describe the psychometric.

    Particularly when the paper is behind a paywall.

    We are all subject to our own biases, and nowhere more so than when measuring phenotypes such as these. The only trustworthy psychometrician is the one who makes explicit the pains taken to moderate those biases, and avoid torturing the data into confirming his assumed outcome, showing his awareness of how many researchers (and feckless HBD bloggers) don’t take these pains.

  21. AG says:

    Here is perfect example of so called psychology study purely based on verbal reasoning which almost is resembling religious belief.

    Argument like this is castle in the air based on a lot of assumptions or opinions without any true scientific basis.

    True science here is neuroscience which identify specific bilogical structure and mechanism for the specific function.

    No wonder GRE requirement for psychology is so low comparing to other scientific training.

  22. Ivy [AKA "Enquiring Mind"] says:
    @Priss Factor

    In re:

    2. cognitive empathy – capacity to see things from another person’s perspective and to understand how he or she feels.

    Ask what happens when cognitive empathy goes to the dark side, when it is ‘weaponized’. Practitioners of such dark arts manipulate the willing.

    Who benefits in that instance?

  23. Keith Vaz [AKA "D\'Marco Mobley"] says:

    Pathological altruism is way more common in Germanics than Celts. It seems highest of all in Swedes – barely NW Europe.

  24. Priss Factor [AKA "Andrea Ostrov Letania"] says:

    “Really? I would think it’s the other way around.
    The days of the week are named after Germanic gods. Christmas is basically the Northern European celebration of solstice, the moment the days start to become longer again. And Easter, at least the way we celebrate it in the West, is more a pagan spring fertility celebration than anything else.”

    Those are all true but compare the essences of Catholicism and Protestantism.

    Catholicism is heavy in idolatrous representations inherited from paganism.

    Protestantism is a starker and simpler devotion to the spirit of Christianity.

    Catholicism planted its seeds between the cracks of the pagan edifice. Paganism was demolished and abolished in theory but its structural foundations remained deep in the ground. Seeds of the new faith had to planted between the cracks.

    In contrast, the pagan north hardly had civilization to speak of. So, its shallow foundations could be removed almost entirely and the spiritual seeds of Christianity could be planted in purer and more fertile soil.

  25. Peter Frost says: • Website


    It’s difficult to generalize about India because of the considerable regional, religious, and caste differences. The Jains were always a small minority, and it would be interesting to see how they score on affective empathy. I don’t believe that vegetarianism and pacifism are indicative of a high level of affective empathy.

    Keep in mind that affective empathy implies a sense of identification with the mental state of other people. Your feelings are my feelings. Your pain is my pain. This empathic bond disintegrates if the other person has an “immoral” mental state. At that point, a desire to help is replaced by a desire to expel that person from the “moral community.” In short, empathic people can be both selfless do-gooders and witch-burners. The good people of Salem were very empathic.

    “Morality” and “immorality” are social constructs. What is moral today may have been immoral yesterday. But these arbitrary and subjective moral rules are processed by certain innate mental structures, particularly the capacity for empathic guilt.

    “And nothing in your comment indicates why Christian empathy is fundamentally different from Buddhist empathy”

    Christian empathy is much more guilt-driven. Buddhism has no doctrine of original sin, i.e., the notion that we are all born guilty and must strive to redeem ourselves of this guilt. This doctrine developed in Christianity as its geographic center of gravity moved farther north and west. Christianity absorbed empathic guilt as it became more and more European, just as it absorbed the prohibition of polygyny.

    “my view is supported by the premise that “empathy” subdivides into “affective”, “cognitive”, and in-group social support (“pro-social behavior”). I can’t see a gene-complex that is, at least in the Darwinian context, favoring reproductive success, subdividing into 3 distinct types of behavior.”

    John Smith,

    Pro-social behavior is probably a separate mental system. It also has the lowest heritability of the three components and seems to be highly softwired. Affective empathy may have evolved out of cognitive empathy. In other words, once the human mind developed a specialized ability to simulate how other people feel, on the basis of various inputs (facial expressions, speech intonation, inferences based on the immediate situation and the person’s history), it becomes possible to feed that output into your own emotional response.

    It may be that affective empathy initially developed as part of the mother’s bond with her children. This may be why women score higher on affective empathy than men do.

    “After all, if indeed Northern Europeans feel so ‘guilty’ about miseries around the world, how come they care so much about some peoples but almost nothing for other peoples?”


    Because the “misery narrative” is socially constructed.


    “Particularly when the paper is behind a paywall.”

    Why don’t you go to your local university and ask for a guest pass to use its online publications? That’s what I do when I go to Toronto. I copy the PDF and read it at home.

    All right. Here are the key paragraphs about the study’s methodology:

    The current study aimed to develop the Chinese version of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (C-IRI)—an instrument designed to measure different aspects of the construct of empathy.

    […] The Chinese Interpersonal Reactivity Index (C-IRI). The 28-item IRI is a self-reported questionnaire consisting of four 7-item subscales, including Fantasy (FS), Perspective Taking (PT), Empathetic Concern (EC), and Personal Distress (PD). Participants are requested to indicate the degree to which each item describes them using a 5-point Likert-type scale, which varied from 0 (does not describe me well) to 4 (describes me very well). A total score of 28 could be obtained for each of the four subscales, and a higher score in a subscale represents a higher functioning in each aspect of empathy. The 28-item IRI was translated into Chinese, and an expert panel with 11 members evaluated its content validity and cultural relevance. The IRI was first translated into Chinese (in the Cantonese dialect) and then back translated into English from Chinese by two professional translators. Discrepancies between the English and Chinese versions were evaluated and gradually reduced through an iterative review process. The members of the expert panel include three psychologists, two academics in the field of psychology, and six social work and mental health professionals. The panel members fulfilled at least two of the following criteria: (a) the member had published articles in academic journals related to adolescent mental health, (b) the member had more than 5 years of experience in psychosocial assessment, and (c) the member had more than 5 years of experience providing social work, counseling, or psychotherapy services to adolescents and young adults.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @Bill M
  26. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Peter Frost

    Thank you Peter, this description of the psychometric is illuminating, and the INTERPERSONAL REACTIVITY INDEX is easily researchable.

    In short, the Chinese participants could see things from another person’s perspective and understand how that person felt. There is much less indication, however, that they involuntarily experienced the feelings of other people, especially feelings of distress. This is not to say they were incapable of such emotion transference, but rather that it seems limited in scope, perhaps being confined to family members and not extended to strangers.

    Are we to understand, then, that the test takers in this cohort of Hong Kong East Asians scored lower than a comparison Western cohort on the EC component? This would be a fascinating finding in and of itself, arguably worth exploring in a separate article.

    It would be particularly interesting if the C-IRI were later implemented upon one or several followup cohorts of mainland Chinese – a cursory search suggests that such has taken place:

  27. viking says:
    @John Jeremiah Smith

    culture is an environment it selects genes genes select culture in an endless feedback loop however its a biological mechanism so its not nature vs nurture its all nature.
    so you live in a society where cousin marriage is taboo pretty soon you get out bred but the next village that favors cousin marriage gets inbred their village mistrusts strangers becomes tribal your village embraces diversity gets … yesah lets not go their how about you live in a tribe that values intellectual work ah better not go their either, ok so your tribe moves north which turns into a Darwin test in many ways you used to hunt and gather a tropical savannah but now you must plan for winter when no foraging or hunting is possible future time orientation is selected for and impetuosity is selected out, also in such an environment co operation is selected for and violence selected out, intelligence is certainly selected for both by the difficult environment and the imagination to leave the old one not that theres anything wrong with staying so your cult ture starts these cooperation rituals invents things like marriage for life tribal treaties specialization writing cities commerce while hunter gatherers develop preening promiscuity aggressiveness etc its starts in an environment but is picked up by and amplified by the culture eventually meandering in interesting ways. arabs will never adopt democracy they are all married in the most closely inbred form they dont trust strangers outside the related tribe and cant imagine others would ever act differently than themselves to them a state is just a scam set up by another tribe, Euros on the other hand think the whole world is like the idiots they met at grad school

  28. Rosenmops says:
    @Couch Scientist

    Keeping animals as pets, and working against cruelty to animals seems to have been more prevalent in Britain than elsewhere. The RSPCA began in Britain.

    In many parts of the world animals are treated very cruelly. Even cultures such as the Inuit, who kept dogs to pull sleds, did not (and still do not) tend to make pets of them or treat them with sentimentality.

    The far eastern cultures seem to be characterized by cruelty judging by the way the Japanese treated prisoners of war in WW2 and the appalling treatment of abandoned babies in Chinese orphanages.

    (Read about it in the book Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage )

  29. Sam J. says:

    @John Jeremiah Smith

    John seems to be asking the same nature vs. nurture of psychological behavior that we’ve heard forever. People who ask this never talk about the Minnesota twins study. Twins separated at birth had uncanny similarities in personalities. When some of them met they were wearing the same belt buckles, shirts, hats, smoked the same brand cigarettes and even had wives that were similar. The question has been answered already. Behavior has a VERY high level of heritability.

  30. Hipster says:

    So you posit that Russians basically don’t have “affective empathy”?

    Then, getting down to it, will Russia be the last remnant of white civilization that doesn’t drown itself in immigrants?

    Though Russia certainly does have immigration from their neighbors. If I’m not mistaken, after the U.S. Russia has the second largest absolute amount of foreign-born people living within its borders.

    There is also Argentina and Uruguay, I suppose.

  31. I’m having a measure of difficulty separating the evolution of empathy from the development of psychopathology. The true psychopath has a possibly innate understanding of empathy in others, and uses that understanding to manipulate them. Research shows that psychopaths have no emotional connection to words, and thus wouldn’t have the foundation necessary to develop affective empathy (or even mature affect, for that matter).

    Psychopaths are a product of nature. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are developed by nurture or lack thereof. They are capable of affective empathy, but able to suppress it in the pursuit of fulfilling other psychological needs. Of course, the difference between the two is not dichotomous, but more of a scale. Still, it begs the begs the question: why would the ability to prey upon an attribute develop in the absence of that attribute? Psychopathology is worldwide.

  32. Sean says:

    Countries with affective empathy, whereby they are efficient at whatever they are doing, can make stupid things seem to work well for a very long time.

    People put the cart before the horse and think that a certain type of civil society or economic system is responsible for people being empathetic.

  33. Bill M says:
    @Peter Frost

    This empathic bond disintegrates if the other person has an “immoral” mental state. At that point, a desire to help is replaced by a desire to expel that person from the “moral community.” In short, empathic people can be both selfless do-gooders and witch-burners. The good people of Salem were very empathic.

    “Morality” and “immorality” are social constructs. What is moral today may have been immoral yesterday. But these arbitrary and subjective moral rules are processed by certain innate mental structures, particularly the capacity for empathic guilt.

    If this capacity is contingent upon morality and immorality being defined by arbitrary social constructs, then it would appear that this is mainly or solely a capacity for determining the mental states of other people, rather than empathy per se.

  34. Olorin says:

    I’ve been reflecting on how in atavistic societies like, say, Central and West Africa, those whose vast majority of members appear not to have evolved at all in the past couple millennia, empathy seems to be selected out…by infectious disease.

    Those people who care for others who are sick are also at the highest risk of getting sick/dying themselves. The Ebola virus disease outbreak at present is an excellent example. Helpers either die through well intentioned but uninformed tending of the ill and the dead, or they get their throats cut trying to hand out soap.

    Societies that make the jump to higher intelligence are those who understand that empathy must have limits. I remember how, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, when called upon in school to think hypothetically about various ethical issues, and evolve my own thinking, the “lifeboat scenario” or the “quarantine dilemma” would come up. (Considering at what point it becomes lethal to the community to let kindness, altruism, and feelings get the better of society.)

    With the conversion of the US in the late 1970s and 1980s to an outpost of global capital under the Republicans, and all the harsh sword-waving and worship of pinstripes and coke communions that accompanied that, empathy and altruism were thrown out. It’s no wonder that the Democratic Party’s counter-ascendancy was so full of New Age woo and a frantic swing to feminization of society and rejection of maleness.

    (It also didn’t help that males abandoned the family in the 1960s with the diligent pursuit of eternal adolescence. The Endless Summer, Long Strange Trip, Electric Kool-Aid Bus, Easy Rider, Playboy philosophy, 24/7 televised sports and porn…, but blamed all that on women.)

    So here we stand in the wake of the corporate/academic/mass media takeover of opinion and discourse of the second half of the 20th century, trying to reclaim some sense of factuality, calm, and reason after half a century of polarized nonsense designed to sell consumer goods to the most lucrative demographics.

    I feel about Ebola/disease and empathy/altruism the way I felt about abortion from the 1970s on. There are times when harsh choices must be made to honor the best possibilities for life and for society. There is such a thing as too little empathy, and such a thing as way too much, and uninformed altruism. Evolution itself seems to select against stupid empathy just as it selects against vicious reason.

    But then the Stoics established this 2,500 years ago, and were thrown out with the other bathwater of Western reason by religionists both secular and ecclesiastical from about 1980 on.

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