Is Empathy Hardwired?

The Age of Empathy by Dr. Frans De Waal

The Age of Empathy by Dr. Frans De Waal

World-renown primatologist Dr. Frans De Waal’s new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, draws upon decades of research and study, considering such fundamental questions as: Do we have an instinct for compassion?  Or is everything we do motivated simply by innate self-interest?

The book has received a lot of interest; most recently, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting review accompanied by compelling video and images, and the Los Angeles Times pondered the book’s central argument in light of all of the recent negative events (i.e. the War on Terror, the financial meltdown, the ongoing unrest in the Middle East) triggered by humans at the dawn of this still very new century.

You can read an excerpt here, and visit the author’s website for more information.

So what do you think of this newest chapter in the nature versus nurture debate?  Is empathy really hardwired?  If so, what does that mean for us?


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4 responses to “Is Empathy Hardwired?

  1. Amber McCurdy

    Empathy is seen in very young children, and as pointed out, could easily be a mechanism for societal cohesion, by building strong emotional ties with not only age peers, but with the larger social group. Empathy plays out inlarger societal ways when paired with logic, the emapthy that draws one to a cause, for example, and the logic to act on it or not, as we are at this minute seeing in our streets at the G20 protests.
    Empathy is a survival instinct geared toward preserving the group, not only the self.

  2. I believe self interest actually includes empathy, if you look at it carefully. 100% self interest behavior–as we usually think about it– would result in our not helping others and thus others not helping us. We, as society and as individuals, get along better when there is some empathy for others, even though, at first look, this may seem inconsistent with our personal self interest. But, overall, empathy for others is actually in our self interest.

  3. I think Ken Morris needs to change his mantra, that claims “if you aren’t a good person you will never be a leader. ” What about evil people who are leaders? Hitler and Charles Manson come to mind.

    • Ken Morris

      Hitler and all despots are brought up when discussing leadership. A leader is someone who works for all and through passion and empathy; Hitler surely doesn’t meat the definition of a leader.He used intimidation, fear, and power to destroy Germany. There were many Germans who knew he would destroy Germany and did everything they could to kill him. Manson…not a leader he is a sociopath who used pryed on the weak and drug induced wayward young people.

      Good points, but I think off the mark when the subject is empathy.

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