Uploaded on Nov 20, 2011
The lecture of Jerzy Vetulani, “Aggresion and empathy — a surprising mixture”, given during the 15th Kraków Methodological Conference – The Emotional Brain: From the Humanities to Neuroscience and Back Again. The main organizer of the conference was Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and its special guest was Joseph LeDoux.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another being (a human or non-human animal) is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. There are many definitions for empathy which encompass a broad range of emotional states. Three types of empathy may exist: cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and somatic empathy. In the development of human empathy, individual differences appear, ranging from no apparent empathic ability, or empathy which is harmful to self or others, to well-balanced empathy, including the ability to distinguish between self and other. Various theories and aspects of empathy have been researched, including empathy within nonhuman animals.
A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate species. Birds have been shown to have imitative resonance behaviors and neurological evidence suggests the presence of some form of mirroring system. In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.
The function of the mirror system is a subject of much speculation. Many researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology consider that this system provides the physiological mechanism for the perception/action coupling (see the common coding theory). They argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mindskills, while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities. Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.
In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, refers to a pattern of favoring members of one’s in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, allocation of resources, and many other ways. For example, it has been shown that people will seek to make more internal (dispositional) attributions for events that reflect positively on groups they belong to and more external (situational) attributions for events that reflect negatively on their groups.
This interaction has been researched by many psychologists and linked to many theories related to group conflict and prejudice. The phenomenon is primarily viewed from a social psychology standpoint. Two prominent theoretical approaches to the phenomenon of in-group favoritism are realistic conflict theory and social identity theory. Realistic conflict theory proposes that intergroup competition, and sometimes intergroup conflict, arises when two groups have opposing claims to scarce resources. In contrast, social identity theory posits a psychological drive for positively distinct social identities as the general root cause of in-group favoring behavior.
In 1906, the sociologist William Sumner posited that humans are a species that join together in groups by their very nature. However, he also maintained that humans had an innate tendency to favor their own group over others, proclaiming how “each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exists in its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders” (p. 13). This is seen on the group level with ingroup-outgroup bias. When experienced in larger groups such as tribes, ethnic groups, or nations, it is referred to as ethnocentrism.
Realistic conflict theory (or realistic group conflict) posits that competition between groups for resources is the cause of in-group bias and the corresponding negative treatment of members of the out-group. Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment is the most widely known demonstration of Realistic Conflict Theory. In this experiment, 22 eleven year-old boys with similar backgrounds were studied in a mock summer camp situation. The boys were divided into two equal groups and encouraged to bond, and then the researchers introduced a series of competitive activities in which the groups were pitted against one another. Hostility and out-group negativity ensued. Researchers then attempted to reverse the hostility by engaging the boys in situations of mutual interdependence, an effort which eventually resulted in relative harmony between the two groups. This study demonstrated that regardless of two groups’ similarity, group members will behave viciously toward the out-group when competing for limited resources.