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Friday, October 31, 2014

Addressing the empathy deficit: beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging.

Addressing the empathy deficit: Beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging.
Schumann, Karina; Zaki, Jamil; Dweck, Carol S.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 107(3), Sep 2014, 475-493.


Empathy is often thought to occur automatically. Yet, empathy frequently breaks down when it is difficult or distressing to relate to people in need, suggesting that empathy is often not felt reflexively. Indeed, the United States as a whole is said to be displaying an empathy deficit. When and why does empathy break down, and what predicts whether people will exert effort to experience empathy in challenging contexts? Across 7 studies, we found that people who held a malleable mindset about empathy (believing empathy can be developed) expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who held a fixed theory (believing empathy cannot be developed). Specifically, a malleable theory of empathy--whether measured or experimentally induced--promoted (a) more self-reported effort to feel empathy when it is challenging (Study 1); (b) more empathically effortful responses to a person with conflicting views on personally important sociopolitical issues (Studies 2-4); (c) more time spent listening to the emotional personal story of a racial outgroup member (Study 5); and (d) greater willingness to help cancer patients in effortful, face-to-face ways (Study 6). Study 7 revealed a possible reason for this greater empathic effort in challenging contexts: a stronger interest in improving one's empathy. Together, these data suggest that people's mindsets powerfully affect whether they exert effort to empathize when it is needed most, and these data may represent a point of leverage in increasing empathic behaviors on a broad scale.


Empathy exerts a powerful influence on how people treat one another, and high levels of empathy promote positive outcomes for both the empathy target and empathizer (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 1994; Batson et al., 1988; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). However, people might often not experience these benefits of empathy when it is challenging to empathize with others. Our research demonstrates that one way to respond to these empathic challenges is to expend additional effort to feel empathy. It highlights the importance of people's mindsets of empathy in predicting this empathic effort, and thus identifies a new and potentially important way of addressing the empathy deficit.

The entire article is here.

The Neuroscience of Intergroup Relations: An Integrative Review

By Mina Cikara & Jay J. Van Bavel
Perspectives on Psychological Science
May 2014 vol. 9 no. 3 245-274


We review emerging research on the psychological and biological factors that underlie social group formation, cooperation, and conflict in humans. Our aim is to integrate the intergroup neuroscience literature with classic theories of group processes and intergroup relations in an effort to move beyond merely describing the effects of specific social out-groups on the brain and behavior. Instead, we emphasize the underlying psychological processes that govern intergroup interactions more generally: forming and updating our representations of “us” and “them” via social identification and functional relations between groups. This approach highlights the dynamic nature of social identity and the context-dependent nature of intergroup relations. We argue that this theoretical integration can help reconcile seemingly discrepant findings in the literature, provide organizational principles for understanding the core elements of intergroup dynamics, and highlight several exciting directions for future research at the interface of intergroup relations and neuroscience.


People experience pleasure when they have the ability to punish or watch the punishment of a disliked or competitive other. When a partner behaved unfairly (i.e., defected) in a game, the dorsal striatum—a region implicated in action selection on the basis of reward value—was relatively more active when people administered punishments that reduced defectors’ payoffs, as compared with punishments that did not (De Quervain et al., 2004). Moreover, subjects with stronger activations in the dorsal striatum were willing to incur greater costs in order to punish. Other work has found that seeing the pain of a cooperative confederate activated a network of brain regions associated with firsthand experience of pain; however, seeing the pain of a competitive confederate activated ventral striatum. Further, ventral striatum activation correlated with an expressed desire for revenge (Singer et al., 2006). Thus, in interpersonal contexts, competition (even among strangers, for low-stakes outcomes) fundamentally changes people’s social preferences and corresponding neural responses.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Study Says Social Media Schadenfreude Is Real

By Laura Bradley
Originally published October 6, 2014

If you catch yourself using Facebook to check up on every burnout from high school when you’re down, know this: You’re not alone.

A new study from Ohio State University suggests that when people aren’t feeling their best, they tend to be more interested in social media profiles of those they consider less attractive, successful, or just generally well-off. In other words, a study finally corroborates what we all know to be true: Looking at a friend’s engagement photos while on a Friday night date with Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s is just not appealing.

The entire story is here.

Are You A Hysteric, Or A Sociopath? Welcome to the Privacy Debate

By Tom Tolkein
Ethical Issues in the Online World
Originally posted October 7, 2014

Whether you’re reading about the latest data-mining class action lawsuit through your Google Glass or relaxing on your front porch waving at your neighbors, you probably know that there’s a big debate in this country about privacy.  Some say privacy is important. Some say it’s dead.  Some say kids want it, or not. Some say it’s a relatively recent phenomenon whose time, by the way, has passed—a slightly opaque blip in our history as social animals. Others say it’s a human right without which many other rights would be impossible to maintain.

It’s a much-needed discussion—but one in which the tone is often not conducive to persuasion, and therefore progress.  If you think concerns about information privacy are overrated and might become an obstacle to the development of useful tools and services, you may hear yourself described as a [Silicon Valley] sociopath or a heartless profiteer.  If you believe that privacy is important and deserves protection, you may be called a “privacy hysteric.”

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beliefs About God and Mental Health Among American Adults

Nava R. Silton, Kevin J. Flannelly, Kathleen Galek, Christopher G. Ellison
Journal of Religion and Health
October 2014, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1285-1296


This study examines the association between beliefs about God and psychiatric symptoms in the context of Evolutionary Threat Assessment System Theory, using data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults (N = 1,426). Three beliefs about God were tested separately in ordinary least squares regression models to predict five classes of psychiatric symptoms: general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Belief in a punitive God was positively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, while belief in a benevolent God was negatively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, controlling for demographic characteristics, religiousness, and strength of belief in God. Belief in a deistic God and one’s overall belief in God were not significantly related to any psychiatric symptoms.

The entire article is here.

Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain

Swiss National Science Foundation
Originally published August 30, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

For several decades many characteristics originally classed as being specific to humans have been seen in a new light. This exclusive interpretation has given way to the view that our ability to plan and remember does not differentiate us from other great apes. In fact, the opposite is true. These cognitive abilities, along with our use of tools, link us to our closest biological relatives. And yet there is a substantial difference to which reference is frequently made when it comes to explaining the unique nature of humans’ cognitive and cultural skills.

The entire pressor is here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

School Psychology in Rural Contexts: Ethical, Professional, and Legal Issues

Lynn M. Edwards, Amanda L. Sullivan
Journal of Applied School Psychology 
Vol. 30, Iss. 3, 2014


Delivering psychological services in rural communities presents a number of unique challenges for practitioners relative to their peers in urban and suburban communities. In this article, the authors describe the current context of rural schools and examine the ethical and legal issues school psychologists may face when practicing in rural educational settings. They link these issues to the field's ethical guidelines and educational policy and offer practical recommendations for resolving potential dilemmas. Implications for practice, training, and research are discussed.


As in any professional context, it is important that rural practitioners engage in ongoing self-reflection of their competence, well-being, and ethical conduct. Our focus was on professional issues for rural practitioners, but these issues apply to small communities generally, including those located within more densely populated locations where similar social dynamics operate (e.g., ethnicity/cultural communities, a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, universities, or military communities; Schank et al., 2010). For school psychologists practicing outside of schools (e.g., private practice), other ethical issues related to the provision of mental health services and social justice may be more salient than the topics addressed herein (see Bradley, Werth, & Hastings, 2012, for discussion). In general, practicing in tightly bound communities requires recognition and responsiveness to the distinct professional context created by social and geographic parameters in order to ensure the provision of ethical, effective services.

The entire article is here.

Punishment or Child Abuse?

By Michael Eric Dyson
New York Times - Opinion pages
September 17, 2014

THE indictment last week of the N.F.L. player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has set into relief the harmful disciplinary practices of some black families. Mr. Peterson used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum. This is child abuse dressed up as acceptable punishment.

While 70 percent of Americans approve of corporal punishment, black Americans have a distinct history with the subject. Beating children has been a depressingly familiar habit in black families since our arrival in the New World. As the black psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote in “Black Rage,” their 1968 examination of psychological black life: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Drug Addiction Seen as 'Moral Failing,' Survey Finds

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter
Originally posted on October 3, 2014

People with drug addiction are much more likely to face stigma than those with mental illness because they're seen as having a "moral failing," according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 700 people across the United States also found that the public is less likely to approve of insurance, housing and employment policies meant to help people with drug addiction.

The study results suggest that many people consider drug addiction a personal vice rather than a treatable medical condition, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers.

The entire article is here.