Empathy And Politics Don’t Mix, Study Finds



When I was nine years old, my Marxist, philosophy professor father told me I could marry anyone I wanted to — as long as he wasn’t a Republican. At that time, I didn’t know what a Republican was. Nevertheless, I took the warning seriously.

This memory resurfaced today when I read about a study that suggests empathy ends when it comes to politics. Researchers report that political values are so emotionally charged that we often can’t relate to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. (See also: Supreme Court, health law).

Here’s the press release from the Association for Psychological Science:

Empathy Doesn’t Extend Across the Political Aisle

When we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we usually go all the way, assuming that they feel the same way we do. But a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that we have limits: we don’t extend this projection to people who have different political views, even under extreme circumstances.

The researchers chose to examine political differences because of the big divide perceived between people on opposing sides, as shown by earlier research. We can look beyond someone having a different gender or being from a different country, but if you’re a Democrat and someone else is a Republican, that person seems extremely different. “Political values are emotionally charged. People get really fired up,” says Ed O’Brien of the University of Michigan, who cowrote the study with Phoebe C. Ellsworth. Continue reading