Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus
By proportion, Americans believe in creationism just as much now as when I was born. Research funding has diminished enough to threaten scientists' ability to work and our nation's competitiveness in science and engineering. These trends reflect a deeper issue in the public's sentiment about science. A recent Pew trust poll found that whereas about [...]
Trains are fascinating places (full disclosure, I’m on a very un-fascinating train right now). Tens or hundreds of straphangers crowd into each car, standing within inches of each other and doing everything they can to pretend they’re alone.
People tend to stereotype psychological phenomena. It’s tempting to think that stress is always bad, resilience is always good, and so forth. Like other stereotypes, these beliefs help us neaten the world and extract signal from noise. Also like other stereotypes, such beliefs are misleading and often harmful. Call me pessimistic, but whenever the media [...]
I have some bad news that, I hope, will turn out to be good news. Psychological studies are not about you. They make few if any predictions about how you should live your life, how to tell if you’re an introvert, or anything else about you as an individual.
For the last few weeks, I’ve written about a simple idea: far from being automatic, empathy often requires a choice to engage with others’ emotions. This choice, in turn, depends on would-be empathizers’ desire to connect with others even when doing so is painful or costly. I think a “choice model” can change how we [...]
Last week, I wrote about a simple idea: far from being an automatic reflex, empathy often requires a choice to engage with others’ emotions. Moreover, people often refuse this choice, because empathy can be challenging, painful, costly, or all three. Instead of meeting these challenges, we often keep our distance from others’ suffering, tune out [...]
About 250 years ago, Adam Smith famously described the way observers might feel watching a tightrope walker. Even while standing on solid ground, our palms sweat and our hearts race as someone wobbles hundreds of feet in the air (you can test this out here). In essence, we experience this person's state as our own.
AW –You mention two practices that are widespread today but might be viewed as morally offensive in the future: boxing and ageism. I want to think about another one: our treatment of the environment.
AW - This is a fun line of thinking! I think many people hold the intuition that their sense of right and wrong—unlike, for instance, their way of dressing—is deeply engrained and not subject to the tides of historical fashion. In essence, we expect aesthetics, but not ethics, to change over time.
AW, The question you ask—when do acts of charity produce "slacking" later on?—connects nicely with a classic debate about altruism. Dan Batson is a strong partisan for one side of this debate, but describes both sides well in a classic paper. On the one hand, people might truly care about the welfare of others: a [...]
AW –You describe a tension that a lot of scientists (myself included) wonder about, but few have addressed head on. The implications here are huge: in encouraging moral behavior, should we encourage people to think about the moral acts in which they've already engaged, or nudge them away from this type of humble-bragging?
INTRODUCTORY NOTE: Welcome! We are Adam Waytz (AW) and Jamil Zaki (JZ), professors and psychologists who study morality, empathy, and prosocial behavior.
Taking a walk in someone else's shoes can backfire--if you do it in the wrong way or at the wrong time
A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S.