+1 Recommend
1 collections
      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found
      Is Open Access

      Empathy and the Liberal-Conservative Political Divide in the U.S.

      * , a ,
      Journal of Social and Political Psychology
      empathy, partisanship, polarization, United States, conservatism, liberalism

      Read this article at

          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.


          When future historians look back upon the current political climate in the U.S., it is likely that they will view the severe state of political polarization between liberals and conservatives as being one of its defining characteristics. While some have suggested that a difference in general levels of empathy among liberals and conservatives could be playing a role in shaping their differing political attitudes, psychologist Paul Bloom has forcefully argued against any such difference in his book “Against Empathy”. In this commentary I set out to counter Bloom’s claim that there is no significant relationship between the capacity to experience empathy and political ideology. To this end, I discuss how a growing collection of empirical research indicates that an individual’s propensity to experience empathy correlates with one’s general political attitudes (including party affiliation) as well as with which specific policy positions one takes. More specifically, this research suggests that a strong connection exists between empathy and liberal political views. In light of this research, I suggest that empathy can help account for the differences in political attitudes among liberals and conservatives in the U.S. and may even help explain why such attitudes have become increasingly polarized. The analysis provided in this essay aims to further our understanding of how personality traits can be used to predict voter attitudes in the U.S. and beyond.

          Related collections

          Most cited references35

          • Record: found
          • Abstract: not found
          • Article: not found

          A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy

            • Record: found
            • Abstract: not found
            • Article: not found

            Extending the Cross-Cultural Validity of the Theory of Basic Human Values with a Different Method of Measurement

              • Record: found
              • Abstract: found
              • Article: not found

              The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal.

              Whether observation of distress in others leads to empathic concern and altruistic motivation, or to personal distress and egoistic motivation, seems to depend upon the capacity for self-other differentiation and cognitive appraisal. In this experiment, behavioral measures and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging were used to investigate the effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal while participants observed the facial expression of pain resulting from medical treatment. Video clips showing the faces of patients were presented either with the instruction to imagine the feelings of the patient ("imagine other") or to imagine oneself to be in the patient's situation ("imagine self"). Cognitive appraisal was manipulated by providing information that the medical treatment had or had not been successful. Behavioral measures demonstrated that perspective-taking and treatment effectiveness instructions affected participants' affective responses to the observed pain. Hemodynamic changes were detected in the insular cortices, anterior medial cingulate cortex (aMCC), amygdala, and in visual areas including the fusiform gyrus. Graded responses related to the perspective-taking instructions were observed in middle insula, aMCC, medial and lateral premotor areas, and selectively in left and right parietal cortices. Treatment effectiveness resulted in signal changes in the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, in the ventromedial orbito-frontal cortex, in the right lateral middle frontal gyrus, and in the cerebellum. These findings support the view that humans' responses to the pain of others can be modulated by cognitive and motivational processes, which influence whether observing a conspecific in need of help will result in empathic concern, an important instigator for helping behavior.

                Author and article information

                J Soc Polit Psych
                Journal of Social and Political Psychology
                J. Soc. Polit. Psych.
                28 February 2020
                : 8
                : 1
                : 08-24
                [a ]Department of Philosophy, College of Staten Island (CUNY) , Staten Island, NY, USA
                [2]Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]College of Staten Island, Department of Philosophy, Building 2N, Room 224, 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, New York 10314, U.S.A. stephen.morris@ 123456csi.cuny.edu

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 20 November 2018
                : 01 September 2019
                Self URI (journal-page): https://journals.psychopen.eu/

                liberalism,conservatism,United States,polarization,partisanship,empathy
                liberalism, conservatism, United States, polarization, partisanship, empathy


                Comment on this article