Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy

TitleUs and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsCikara, M., Bruneau E. G., & Saxe R. R.
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Pagination149 - 153
Date Published06/2011

People are often motivated to increase others’ positive experiences and to alleviate others’ suffering. These tendencies to care about and help one another form the foundation of human society. When the target is an outgroup member, however, people may have powerful motivations not to care about or help ‘the other’. From this perspective, empathic responses are rare and fragile; it is easy to disrupt the chain from perception of suffering, to motivation to alleviate the suffering, to actual helping. We highlight recent interdisciplinary research demonstrating that outgroup members’ suffering elicits dampened empathic responses as compared to ingroup members’ suffering. We consider an alternative to empathy in the context of intergroup competition: Schadenfreude—pleasure at the other's pain. Finally, we review recent investigations of intergroup conflict interventions that attempt to increase empathy for outgroups. We propose that researchers across the range of psychological sciences stand to gain a better understanding of the foundations of empathy by studying its limitations.

Short TitleCurr Dir Psychol Sci