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Science

Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, and Vice Versa 293

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-note-sports-fans dept.
hessian sends this quote from a Case Western Reserve University news release: "New research shows a simple reason why even the most intelligent, complex brains can be taken by a swindler's story – one that upon a second look offers clues it was false. When the brain fires up the network of neurons that allows us to empathize, it suppresses the network used for analysis, a pivotal study led by a Case Western Reserve University researcher shows (abstract). ... At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found. The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time. The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised. More, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled."
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Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, and Vice Versa

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  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by Konster (252488) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:09PM (#41833571)

    [spock]Fascinating.[/spock]

    • Re:Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

      by almitydave (2452422) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:40PM (#41834845)

      The "spock" tag has been deprecated in favor of the less implementation-specific "eyebrow" tag. Optionally use the "height" attribute with the following values: spock, jeeves, therock, connery, or scully.

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:12PM (#41833615)

    So this is why girls aren't good at math?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nschubach (922175)

      Because girls were raised to empathize? I'm not sure I buy that male/female is "better" at either. Just more experienced.

      • by rve (4436) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:50PM (#41834163)

        "Raised" you say. When I drop my kids off at daycare, the little girls my son's age come to check out his baby sister. The little boys are too busy playing and couldn't care less. At that age (barely verbal) kids just do what comes naturally, and not really what society expects of them.

        Mind you, this doesn't mean the GP isn't full of manure. Girl's lack of aptitude in math compared to boys is a matter of culture, not nature. It's not constant over different cultures or in the same culture over time.

        • by TitusC3v5 (608284)
          I'm sure that has nothing at all to do with the fact that little girls are generally given what amounts to replica babies to play with while boys are given action-oriented toys instead.
          • by sFurbo (1361249) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @04:11PM (#41835257)
            You are right, the causality is mostly the other way. The tendency can be registered from three months of age by tracking how long time babies of different sexes opens looking at various objects. While there is certainly large variations within each sex, the average of each sex is clearly distinct and biologically determined.
          • by sFurbo (1361249)
            Sorry for the double reply, but I would like to take back the "mostly" from the first sentence of the sibling post. I have no way of knowing how much is caused by biology, and as the social process is wildly self-reinforcing, it might not even make sense to ask the question. However, I stand by the rest of my post.
        • by samoanbiscuit (1273176) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:31PM (#41834741)
          Kids are gendered from birth onwards. I have a little cousin being reared in the house next to mine, and he's treated roughly (not painfully, just roughly) because "he's a boy and he needs to be tough". He's only 6 months old. If that's the kind of conditioning he's receiving, of course he'll be a rough and tumble terror when he's a toddler. He's also encouraged, at 6 months old, to exert himself and roughly handle/break things. I don't think he'd be encouraged to do such things if he were a female.
          • by war4peace (1628283) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:47PM (#41834935)

            With such mad parents, they would probably have the baby wear thongs and make-up if born a girl.

            • by samoanbiscuit (1273176) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @04:00PM (#41835089)
              It's much more subtle than I make it sound, and I've noticed it with a lot of parents, with boys you see it with their fathers, girls, their mothers. Gender policing is something innate and automatic to most people, and many people don't realize they're doing it, they just think their children magically acquire these traits out of the ether, and so jump to conclusions about gender that don't have all the data.
          • by sFurbo (1361249)
            OTOH, preferences between looking at technical and social objects can be registered at, I think, three months of age. Both processes play a role, and I am not sure how you would even go about telling which played how big a role.
    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:29PM (#41833853)

      I think this explains why conversations on facebook back when I used to have an account were ridiculous stupid and conversations on /. are usually well above room temp IQ but perhaps lacking in some civility.

      FB: "Boo hoo I think I'm catchcing a cold, ironically; I can't figure the first derivative of 1/x"

      FB: Oh you poor baby lets play farmville together till you feel better, have you tried aromatherapy yet for the cold?

      /. : "Boo hoo I think I'm catchcing a cold, ironically; I can't figure the first derivative of 1/x"

      /. : "You Fing idiot you can't even spell catching, don't know what irony is, and if you could spell google correctly instead of spelling it as /., you'd see its -1/x^2"

  • Can I have my Phd now?
    • by arisvega (1414195)

      Can I have my Phd now?

      If you showed it "for the first time", sure you can. With a publication on a "high-profile journal" on the side.

  • Makes sense why sales pitches given in the context of "hands-on" training work so well...

    (they are evil I tell you)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:20PM (#41833715)

    Just swap empathetic with emotional (Yeah different, but related definitions.) and all I have to do is look/listen to my spouse in the morning to see what wife I will spend the day with.
    If she is overly emotional, no amount of logic or analysis with help with anything. It's gonna be a rough day for me.
    If she is overly analytical of what I do or say, there is nothing I can do or say, even gifts of chocolate, will not sway her from her incorrect analysis of my mistakes.

    Women, you can;t live with 'em.

    (Posting as AC becuace my spouse reads slashdot and this post will cause her to fly off the handle.)

    • by Ironhandx (1762146) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:23PM (#41833777)

      Slashdot husbands of even semi-suspicious wives around the world have to hide now thanks to this one AC.

      Well done sir.

      (Posting to hopefully clear my own name)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just swap empathetic with emotional (Yeah different, but related definitions.) and all I have to do is look/listen to my spouse in the morning to see what wife I will spend the day with. If she is overly emotional, no amount of logic or analysis with help with anything. It's gonna be a rough day for me. If she is overly analytical of what I do or say, there is nothing I can do or say, even gifts of chocolate, will not sway her from her incorrect analysis of my mistakes.

      Women, you can;t live with 'em.

      (Posting as AC becuace my spouse reads slashdot and this post will cause her to fly off the handle.)

      I know it's you: we will discuss this VERY carefully later today. Now, take the trash out.

    • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:56PM (#41834265)
      Yeah, but have you observed any sort of noticeable cycle or pattern to it, perhaps a biorhythm that maybe seems to entrain to the phase of the moon? ;>) (joke)
      .

      For the not joking part of this comment, I have to say that I'm not (yet?) experiencing the monthly moody emotionalness that I observe in many of my female peers. I do have the physical water-retention, the physical pain that ibuprofen cannot solve, and the aches, but not the emotional stress aspect. Maybe that happens a little further in life? Or is it a psycho-social thing: you expect it to happen so you make it happen... The packs of women/girls roving together in a high-school do form cliques and do reinforce each others' behaviours and attitudes...

    • by ccandreva (409807)

      I prefer Norm's version

      Women, you can't live with them . . . pass the beer nuts.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weBbZ11d5LM [youtube.com]

  • Sooooo..... (Score:4, Funny)

    by robinsonne (952701) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:21PM (#41833737)
    So people that work in IT gain less and less empathy for their users? Hmmmm....
  • Paradox. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:23PM (#41833775) Journal

    Rational analysis will lead to better outcomes than emotionally driven behavior. So if you want good things to happen to the most people, which most empathetic people would, then you should eschew empathy and be as rational as possible.

    • Not a Paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:34PM (#41833935)
      I think your proof falls apart with your first statement "Rational analysis will lead to better outcomes than emotionally driven behavior." This might be evidence of the opposite. That empathic behavior is more likely to get you laid and produce children than rational behavior.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Empathy is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient being, not necessarily to want good things for them.

      You can imagine what it is like to be in another person's shoes without caring about the person currently in them.

      No Paradox.

      • by idontgno (624372)
        Interesting. "Empathy" usually implies (imprecisely) "sympathy", and the desire to help out the person you're empathizing with. But I guess from a from a strict technical construction, "Sucks to be you" and walking away counts as empathy.
      • Can you, though? From my past reading on human behavior, we do essentially imagine what it is like to be in another person's shoes by mentally modelling the same experience applied to ourselves - i.e. if you see someone being embarrassed (and empathize), the same neural pathways are actuated as when you're embarrassed yourself.

    • by tonywong (96839)
      Better outcomes for whom? Your rationality would allow you to give up on someone you may care about because rationally speaking, it isn't worth the effort to stay with/keep caring for them. The overall expenditure may be rationalized to be lower for society but individual empathy for individuals can modify such behaviour so that you would spend more for people you care about.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If I always followed my rational mind, I would miss out of the greatest opportunities in my lifetime, and I consider them far greater than any mean or average you see the world through. I pity such small-mindedness, however, I also disagree with this research that empathy and rationality are opposed to eachother, just that the majority of people have neither noticed- or nurtured the skill to balance empathy (inspiration) and rationality (vehicle).

      • "If I always followed my rational mind, I would miss out of the greatest opportunities in my lifetime"

        Nope, you just don't know enough about modern neuroscience. All of you who responded to the OP are scientifically illiterate about what rationality requires, rationality requires emotion. Link:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ [youtube.com]

    • Rational analysis will lead to better outcomes than emotionally driven behavior. So if you want good things to happen to the most people, which most empathetic people would, then you should eschew empathy and be as rational as possible.

      Except that, without empathy, you don't want good things to happen to the most people. You'd only care about the good things happening to you.

    • No fundamental goal can be rationally justified, only steps to achieve that goal can.

      Fundamental goals are arbitrary, irrational, and fall in line with emotion and empathy. Once established, however, you can use rational analysis to figure out how to achieve that irrational goal.

      Empathy also bounds the space in which rational analysis searches, because irrationality allows for conflicting and competing goals, having some arbitrary measure to weight and decide between what is offered in the search to reduce

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Rational analysis will lead to better outcomes than emotionally driven behavior.

      [[citation needed]].

      In the absence of a rational analysis supporting your claim, I can only conclude it is purely emotional (wishful thinking). See also a a recent Dilbert cartoon [dilbert.com].

    • Not having empathy can lead to one missing out on many facts and understanding of people... and thus hurt empathy.

      You really need both to make a good decision.

      As a very simplistic example...
      A 'rational' medical professional might think that we should ban soda because it is unhealthy.

      But someone with empathy will recognize that people feel and don't like being told what to do.

      Similarly, we see what is happening in Europe right now. The politicians are pushing austerity. But they are not empathetic to how peo

    • Rational analysis will lead to better outcomes than emotionally driven behavior.

      The actual finding is about "social cognition, i.e., reasoning about the mental states of other persons" inhibiting "physical cognition, i.e., reasoning about the causal/mechanical properties of inanimate objects." "Emotionally driven behavior" is not at issue in the research.

      Social cognition will lead to better outcomes if the problem you are addressing is largely related to the mental states of other persons. Physical cognit

  • E-mail (Score:5, Interesting)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:31PM (#41833885)

    Never send an important e-mail when you've just been coding for several hours.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:35PM (#41833959) Journal

    See all of you kept crying about how all our C?O and Political leaders are psychopaths were wrong. You should be happy about that. They are better at thinking than you are and no doubt producing more optimal solutions than you could.

    Thank goodness we have these unfeeling psychopaths to lead us.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:40PM (#41834025)
    I'm sure that con artists have been subconsciously using this for millennia.
  • Faulty Jump (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erik.erikson (1821660) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @02:54PM (#41834223)
    It seems a faulty jump to go from the observations that the study participants did not use the two elements of cognition together to the assertion that one cannot use both capacities at the same time. At the very least it should be theoretically possible for neural connectivity to be established between the two sub-networks and as a result to activate both capabilities concurrently. Certainly we should be able to imagine circumstances where having such an ability would be advantageous, such as the processing and understanding of the experience but also wise and healthy reaction within the emotional interactions we engage in with our loved ones.
    • by neonfrog (442362)
      I was thinking that, too. As a stage performer I have to access empathy to make my character feel real *and* perform all of the split-second analysis that happens in live theater (improvising around technical challenges, line flubs, etc.) It is a balancing act. Perhaps it is just fast switching between the two?
  • The Fear Factor (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I guess that explains the constant focus on fear by conservatives. If you focus on that most powerful emotional response, people lose the rational ability to question the long term consequences of those actions. Like say, for example, starting a useless protracted war in a middle east nation, or cutting back at personal liberties to 'protect from the terrorists'.

  • by h5inz (1284916) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:34PM (#41834769)
    If you read the abstract of the article [sciencedirect.com]then it states that the tasks presented to the subjects where -"tasks requiring social cognition, i.e., reasoning about the mental states of other persons, and tasks requiring physical cognition, i.e., reasoning about the causal/mechanical properties of inanimate objects". Social reasoning does not equal empathy. Empathy requires one to share and understand others feelings while social reasoning is something a sociopath could do.
  • Someone less intelligent won't do that as much, or as well. Thus, they need all the loose ends in whatever the lie is neatly tied up for them. When there's a lot of them, they realize that something is fishy. Whereas the smarter person just kind of automatically fills in those cracks.
  • by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:48PM (#41834949) Homepage Journal
    How can you all debate this study from Case Western! We have to do something!!!
  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:48PM (#41834951)
    The existance of conservative Republicans proves there must be an additional factor, something that suppresses BOTH empathy and analytics...
  • by Diamonddavej (851495) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @03:52PM (#41834987)

    "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of." - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).

  • ...the "Gregory House Paradox"
  • The moment she starts crying, any bullshit she's been putting you through instantly goes out the window.

  • I know. I know. This is /. Nonetheless... the article is talking about social and mechanical reasoning. Not empathy vs. logic. Not Repub vs Dem. Not women vs men.

    It's about two types of problem solving: reasoning about causal relationships of inanimate objects and reasoning about the mental states of other persons. Those are the two that are, according to this research, neurologically mutually exclusive.

    By racing off into stereotypes, the most obvious implication has been missed. At least one of them

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