Chapter 6 — CLaims & Ratings
Overall: Some of this chapter’s claims, such as those concerning the power of norms, are extremely well supported by decades of interdisciplinary research. Other claims, however, such as those involving the potential for empathy interventions to transform policing and classroom discipline, rely on new research that has yet to be replicated on a large scale.
Claim 6.1: Social norms influence our thoughts and actions.
The concept of social norms is foundational in social psychology, and the fact that the norms around us influence our thoughts and actions has been robustly demonstrated across many studies over the past several decades.
Claim 6.2: People conform to perceived norms and often overestimate the prevalence of extreme positions.
The evidence regarding the influence of perceived norms on conformity is decades old and robust. Likewise, much evidence exists that people misperceive norms as being more extreme than they actually are, and, in turn, then conform to these misperceived extreme norms.
Claim 6.3: Empathy begets empathy: Positive and empathic norms spread.
The idea that positive, prosocial norms are influential is widely documented in many different contexts; broadly speaking, generosity begets generosity. There are some factors, however, that indicate that prosocial empathy is not always contagious; for example, at least one study suggests that merely witnessing another person being helped actually decreases helping behavior in the future when the individual feels that they themselves were not helped.
Claim 6.4: Interpersonal training programs for police improve policing outcomes.
Several studies suggest that training focused on police officer empathy, conflict management, or procedural justice can improve policing outcomes, for instance, by helping officers de-escalate dangerous situations. However, relatively few studies have assessed such training programs experimentally, using control groups and looking at important outcomes over time.
Claim 6.5: Empathy bias, or preferential empathy for one’s in-group, often outweighs an individual’s overall empathy, particularly during intergroup conflict.
The study by Bruneau et al. cited with this claim is quite recent and has not yet been replicated by multiple, independent groups. Although it is consistent with many studies on empathy bias and the power of in-group/out-group empathy, there have been almost no studies directly comparing empathy bias to overall empathy. Thus, the specific argument that empathy bias matters more than overall empathy, while likely valid, has not been empirically tested in many studies.
Claim 6.6: Social and Emotional Learning learning leads to many benefits (particularly for young children).
The positive benefits of social and emotional learning, particularly for young children in elementary school, are well-documented and well-supported by many studies, including several large-scale meta-analyses.
Claim 6.7: Empathetic discipline helps classrooms.
Jason Okonofua’s study on this topic is promising and well conducted, but this research is so new it has yet to be replicated, and no other studies have examined the impact of empathy-focused discipline in an educational setting.