Introduction — CLaims & Ratings
The book begins by introducing some of the most foundational concepts of empathy, including its evolutionary roots, bases in the brain, and its relationship to kind actions. As such, the claims in this chapter rest on strong theoretical and empirical evidence, and are supported by a wealth of interdisciplinary research from fields including psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and economics.
Claim 0.1: Empathy is related to kindness and prosociality.
Decades of work support the "empathy-altruism hypothesis," or the idea that empathy inspires kindness and prosocial action. The majority of recent research on this topic focuses on mediators, mechanisms, and situational factors influencing this relationship because the general link between empathy and kindness, helping, and altruism is well-established.
Claim 0.2: Evolution favors empathy, through selective advantages for prosocial organisms.
A growing and interdisciplinary body of research, detailed both in research articles and in several books, is underscoring that humans evolved to be empathetic, and that empathic traits can also be seen in our ancestral species, such as primates.
Claim 0.3: Empathic individuals excel professionally.
A great deal of evidence supports the relationship between empathy or emotional intelligence and professional success. However, there are also some experts who have stated that this relationship is overblown because the ways of measuring empathy and emotional intelligence are not standardized across the field, and there have been a few failed replications and studies indicating no relationship between empathy and professional success. Even so, the majority of evidence seems to support this claim.
Claim 0.4: Empathic individuals experience greater subjective well-being.
Many studies have demonstrated the relationship between empathy and subjective well-being, highlighting the role of empathy in job success, marital success, positive relationships, and life satisfaction. However, a few studies have also indicated some potential drawbacks of empathy, such as increased burnout or depressive symptoms.
Claim 0.5: It is easier to empathize with one person than many people.
Several compelling studies and at least one meta-analysis support the "identifiable victim" effect: the idea that a single, identified victim inspires empathy more strongly than multiple or unidentified victims. There has been at least one failed replication of this effect, but overall the evidence supports this claim.
Claim 0.6: “Mirroring” in the brain is associated with empathy.
Many studies and several large-scale meta analysis support both the existence of mirror neurons in humans and the role these neurons play in understanding others’ emotions, goals, and motivations.