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Empathy Bias
(Beyond In-Group/Out-Group Bias)

Neuroscientists and social psychologists have increasingly acknowledged that empathy, like grace, is a multi-faceted concept. Conflict resolution programs often use train around fostering empathy among people involved in conflicts. It is also increasingly acknowledged that more empathy does not guarantee more goodness and compassion, which are incentives to resolving conflict.

Past research efforts have concentrated on individuals, while more recent psychological research shows that there is a difference in how we use empathy among groups versus individuals. For example, multiple studies on Israelis and Palestinians reveal that people who engage in extreme violence do not necessarily lack empathy. Instead, they have high empathy for the group they belong to and low empathy for the group they oppose. If this is indeed the case, then inducing general empathy might actually motivate hostility towards some groups, a consequence that conflicts directly with our usual association between empathy and altruistic behavior.

This empathy bias goes beyond in-group bias, or favoring a group's members over another group's members, and is when we look at the pain of others and apply personal lenses that can distort our understanding of their pain and suffering. As part of a group, we assign values and meaning to “our” people, and diminish the value of those outside them.

How and where does the empathy bias show up for you?

Consider your recent practice challenge:
How did you extend grace to others?
How did you move beyond your comfort zone?

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