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Friday, February 8, 2019

Empathy is hard work: People choose to avoid empathy because of its cognitive costs

Daryl Cameron, Cendri Hutcherson, Amanda Ferguson,  and others
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited January 25, 2019


Empathy is considered a virtue, yet fails in many situations, leading to a basic question: when given a choice, do people avoid empathy? And if so, why? Whereas past work has focused on material and emotional costs of empathy, here we examined whether people experience empathy as cognitively taxing and costly, leading them to avoid it. We developed the Empathy Selection Task, which uses free choices to assess desire to empathize. Participants make a series of binary choices, selecting situations that lead them to engage in empathy or an alternative course of action. In each of 11 studies (N=1,204) and a meta-analysis, we found a robust preference to avoid empathy, which was associated with perceptions of empathy as effortful, aversive, and inefficacious. Experimentally increasing empathy efficacy eliminated empathy avoidance, suggesting cognitive costs directly cause empathy choice. When given the choice to share others’ feelings, people act as if it’s not worth the effort.

The research is here.