The biggest takeaway for me from “Get Attached,” by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, was how much my attachment style affects all my relationships, especially with friends and family. The need for independence does not limit itself to romance only.

Thanks for the great article.
Vern Martin
Alliance, Ohio

I’m increasingly inclined to view Scientific American Mind as a kind of snobbish self-help exercise. I confess that I love doing the Mensa puzzles and getting the instant gratification that most of the articles provide, but science? Do me a favor! This attachment piece is a case in point—so plausible and yet so irrefutable as to be meaningless. Any reasonably educated person could come up with his or her spectrum of epithets to describe basic human sensibilities; what substantive good comes from it?
commenting at

In “What, Me Care? Jamil Zaki devotes a large portion of the article to speculation about various social factors that might have caused college students’ empathy levels to decline over the past 30 years. I was surprised that Zaki didn’t consider whether nonsocial factors might also have contributed to the decline. Researchers have found correlations between levels of lead in the blood and delinquent behavior, and they have speculated that pollutants in the environment may have contributed to a rise in autism rates. If it is reasonable to investigate whether pollutants are implicated in delinquent behavior and autism, then it seems reasonable to consider whether pollutants might also have contributed to the more general decline in empathy.
Molly Gardner
Madison, Wis.

So people have become less empathic in the past 30 years? During those 30 years English-speaking societies have been dominated by a move toward competitive individualism as the dominant—indeed, the only permitted—model of human nature and interaction. Competitive individualism is all about the fewest restraints possible on human action, including restraints from ties of mutual obligation. It’s all about everyone maximizing his or her outcomes, and devil take the hindmost, especially because the “losers” in the rear are by definition responsible for their own failure.

Governments have led the way as they have stripped away social supports for the less fortunate. The only inexplicable aspect is that this trend could have escaped notice and that its outcomes at the individual level—indifference to our fellows—could be a surprise to anyone.
Catherine Scott
Camberwell, Australia

Perhaps low empathy levels could be improved if people were given the time and space to find one another interesting. I’m saying nothing new, but I think young people are overloaded with fast-paced activities and amusements. Other people, meanwhile, are represented by that slow person at the DMV, that classmate who gossips about you or that teacher who gave you the book report on Wuthering Heights you haven’t yet finished. Obstacles, in other words. If it were somehow necessary for people to depend on the kindness of strangers, they might find reasons to care about them.

Unfortunately, that kind of widespread empathy seems to occur primarily after disasters. Society, when it’s operational, tries to optimize it out.
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I don’t buy the hypothesis that less reading is a cause of lower empathy. I have always been an avid reader, but I have never felt as isolated from others as when, after spending the previous night reading a good book, I went to school or work to hear everyone else talking about something that was on the TV last night.

Between cell phones, IM and Facebook, young people nowadays seem, if anything, more connected to one another than they were 30 years ago. Perhaps it is what they see in those outside their social groups that is making them feel less connected. It certainly seems to me that public discourse by older people has become much more vitriolic and biased than it was when I was young.

“Never trust anyone over 30” was the catchphrase when I was 20. Sadly, it seems far more true now than it was then.
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Siri Carpenter’s piece on embodied cognition, “Body of Thought,” could have benefited from an increased sensitivity to philosophy.

Although research on embodied cognition may have begun relatively recently in the neuroscientific community, there is an important precedent in the research of philosophers Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in the early decades of the 20th century. Their arguments for the irreducibility of embodiment for any proper understanding of consciousness have been drawn on heavily in recent research in cognitive science. This is evident in the works of Alva No, Andy Clark, Antonio Damasio and Shaun Gallagher, among others.

In addition, although early on Carpenter critiques the dualist input-output model of earlier neuroscientific research, later she falls back into using precisely this model when she tries to explain embodiment’s importance by using examples such as the causal effect of certain bodily stimuli (warm coffee and warm feelings). Although such examples are interesting and important in themselves, they miss or trivialize the real point that research into embodied cognition suggests; namely, that cognition in itself is inconceivable without embodiment. It is not simply that the body affects and is affected by conscious experience but that such experience is always and in principle embodied.
James N. McGuirk
Bod, Norway

Regarding “A Soothing Touch,” by Ferris Jabr [Head Lines], another explanation for how touch can reduce pain is the “gate control theory,” introduced by psychologist Ronald Melzack and neuroscientist Patrick David Wall in 1965, whereby sending many signals to the brain can somehow block out the pain signal or at least reduce its intensity. This theory helps to explain why acupuncture may work, and it is also the basis of chemicals such as BenGay, which are classified as counterirritants—they cause a sensation to compete with the pain sensation. Most people apply the counterirritant to the injured muscle, tendon or bone, but it would be just as effective if placed on a noninjured area.
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In addition to being a psychotherapist, I’m also an editor and proofreader. As such, I want to congratulate Scientific American Mind for having one of the best copyediting departments around.

Too many magazines, newspapers and printed books contain an abundance of misspellings, grammatical mistakes, dropped words and nonsequential thoughts. Your magazine consistently ranks among the top few that continue to pay attention to the English language. I’m guessing that’s at least partially due to your excellent staff. I, for one, appreciate them!
Batya D. Wininger
via e-mail