Empathy in Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders

In this class we have discussed the limitations of empathy, but we have yet to talk about predispositions to limited empathy. There is a common impression that people with Autism Spectrum Disorders are unable to feel empathy at all. I have always been interested in this generalization because Autism Spectrum Disorder describes a range of conditions, which in many ways cannot be lumped together under one name. In this research paper I am interested to look at if it is true that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are unable to feel empathy, or if there is a barrier with communication within themselves and to others.

One possible source that I have found is SAGE Journals “Not knowing what I feel: Emotional empathy in autism spectrum disorders”. This study tracked physiological response with self-reported responses to distressing videos. They found that the physiological responses between the experimental and control groups were similar even though there was disparity in the self-report. This supports my hypothesis that for some the disconnect might not be in feeling empathy, but instead in interpreting and expressing empathy.

About 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, which means that it is far from rare. The understanding of how empathy is related to Autism Spectrum Disorders is crucial for researchers and caretakers alike.

Possible Sources:

Aan het Rot, Marije, and Koen Hogenelst. “The Influence of Affective Empathy and Autism Spectrum Traits on Empathic Accuracy.” Ed. Angela Sirigu. PLoS ONE 9.6 (2014): e98436. PMC. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Kennett, Jeanette. “Autism, Empathy and Moral Agency. (Philosophical Abstracts).” The Review of Metaphysics 55 (2002): 673. Print. 14 Nov. 2016

Lombardo, Michael V. et al. “Self-Referential Cognition and Empathy in Autism.” Ed. Paul Zak. PLoS ONE 2.9 (2007): e883. PMC. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Montgomery, Charlotte B. et al. “Do Adults with High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome Differ in Empathy and Emotion Recognition?” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46 (2016): 1931–1940. PMC. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Trimmer, Emily, Skye McDonald, and Jacqueline Ann Rushby. “Not Knowing what I Feel: Emotional Empathy in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Autism (2016)Print.14 Nov. 2016

Works Cited:

“Autism Spectrum Disorder: Data & Statistics.” July 11, 2016 Web. 15 Nov. 2016

Trimmer, Emily, Skye McDonald, and Jacqueline Ann Rushby. “Not Knowing what I Feel: Emotional Empathy in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Autism (2016)Print.14 Nov. 2016

The Effect of Morality on Empathy

Empathy is one of the most difficult topics to understand. There is no agreed upon definition in the academic community, and in the common population it is often misunderstood. The video above provides a strong definition of empathy. The reality is that is a very broad and oversimplified definition; however I could write a whole separate essay defining empathy, and this enough for the purpose of this blog. One thing that I have found is that people believe that they can easily empathize; yet we still see limitations in human empathy. With this it is apparent that human ability to empathize is fluid based on situation. So how do different factors affect human ability to empathize? One such factor is morality. Human ability to empathize is strongly influenced by our moral code. The three blog summaries below examine how morality interacts with our ability to empathize.

First on the relationship between empathy and morality. Majority of the research is geared toward how empathy affects human ability to make moral judgements. The relationship between the two, however, is not unidirectional. “Since our aesthetic judgement is affected by the moral character of the object of aesthetic judgement, a person’s moral decisions might influence the extent to which we empathize with this person,” (Ugazio et al, 167). Empathizing is easier when the person that is the object of the empathy is similar to the empathizer. Thus when morality is involved when the moral codes of the two people line up, empathy occurs with greater ease.

In “Where Morton Gets It Wrong” there is this idea that sometimes our morals rightfully inhibit us from empathizing with others. In his essay, “Empathy for the Devil,” Morton suggests that as a society we are unwilling, not unable, to empathize with those who commit true atrocities, and that this limits our ability to fully empathize in every day situations (Morton, 330). I disagree. Our moral values prevent us from empathizing with those who have committed true atrocities. We need that moral value to prevent us from empathizing and in turn preventing us from committing atrocities ourselves.Because the moral codes of the person who committed the atrocity don’t align with our own moral code, empathy is inhibited.

In the second blog in this sequence “The Damage Social Media Does to Empathy” we examine another time when human morality may inhibit empathy; however, different from with Morton, in this case it can be damaging. The examination of how social media effects empathy is an especially controversial topic because of how young social media is. There are no guidelines on how to properly behave on social media, as there are proper ways to send an email or talk on the phone, so it is hard to understand how it is affecting our society. One specific case is that of 16-year-old Phoebe Cannop, who received negative backlash after she created a racist photograph of her self. Because of the backlash she ended up taking her own life (Matthews). While social media does a lot of good, but in the long run it lowers our ability to empathize with individuals. Our inability to see the whole person behind a social media post allows us to view them for the one disagreeable post and label ourselves as morally superior. While someone may see it as a misalignment of moral codes, it is only perceived and not true misalignment. Empathy is inhibited none the less, but it can cause detrimental effects to the person on the other side of the screen who may have been misjudged.

Finally in “The Demystification of Jean Louise”, through the book Go Set a Watchman, an examination of how growing up and developing our own moral codes that differ from the morals of someone who we hold dear can affect our ability to empathize with them. Jean Louise grows up and learns that Atticus and her hometown are not what she remembered. It is difficult because she loves Atticus dearly, but this fundamental moral disagreement that she has with him is pulling her away (Lee). Initially Jean Louise finds it difficult to empathize with Atticus because she feels his morals are misaligned with her own. She finds the disagreement forces a distance between them that was never there when she was a child. Ultimately she is able to overcome the barrier presented by her morality in order to empathize with her father again.

The relationship between morality and empathy is complex and interwoven. In the three blogs we see empathy and morality reacting to each other, each with very different outcomes. In the first morality rightfully inhibits empathy, the second morality inhibits empathy when it might not necessarily be good to do so, and in the third a moral disagreement doesn’t ultimately inhibit empathy.  The situational complexity of each case effects the desired outcome of the relationship between morality and empathy, however they all have the same initial reaction of misaligned (at least perceived) morals inhibiting empathy. It is important to attempt to understand this complex relationship in order to understand the empathy that humans possess. The more aware we are of the different limitations and relationships of empathy the better we are able to understand the concept of empathy as a whole.

Works Cited:

Brené Brown on Empathy. Perf. Dr. Brené Brown. Illus. Katy Davis.  The RSA. Youtube.com, 10 Dec. 2013. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. First Harper Perennial ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2016. Print.

Matthews, Alex. “Halesowen Teen Took Own Life after Fearing She’s Be Called …” Daily Mail.com. N.p., 28 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2014. 318-330. Print.

Ugazio, Guiseppe, Jasminka Majdandžić, and Claus Lamm. “Are Empathy and Morality Linked?” Empathy and Morality. Ed. Heidi Lene Maibom. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. 155-71. Print.



The Demystification of Jean Louise

When the novel Go Set a Watchman came out I did not want to read it. I heard all of these reviews about how it painted this character Atticus Finch as a racist. I remembered growing up in the south and reading To Kill A Mockingbird and admiring this character who, even as a white man from the south in the 1930’s, was able to stand up for the rights of a black man. The idea that he may be ruined scared me away from reading the book for a while. However, now that I have finished it I am glad that I read the novel.

Gregory Peck portraying Atticus Finch in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird

Gregory Peck portraying Atticus Finch and Mary Badham portraying Scout in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird

As I read the novel I found myself understanding something different than what I was expecting. Yes Atticus Finch held some troubling ideals, but I found myself feeling like maybe it wasn’t him who changed, maybe it was Jean Louise.

To Kill A Mockingbird is narrated from the first person perspective of a six-year-old Jean Louise. Go Set A Watchmen is in the third person, but very much through a twenty-something Jean Louise’s eyes. That is a big age difference and a huge difference developmentally between the two novels. To see the stories through her lens we get an inherent narrator bias. As a six year old she idolized her father. “Jean Louise had never known her mother, and she never knew what a mother was, but she rarely felt the need of one,” (Watchman, 116). He was her only parent and he was in her eyes the picture of what a hero was. As the audience, that is what we saw as well. Since we only read her side of the story we know little about Atticus’ motivations and what was said when Jean Louise was playing with Jem and Dill and not listening in on her father’s work. Now she is in her twenties, she has lived away from Maycomb and developed some of her own ideas about right and wrong from her time away. Since she came back to Maycomb her eyes have been opened to the things that were wrong with her hometown and even her own family.

I also think it is important to note that this might be the first time that she is being exposed to the bigotry in her hometown. In Go Set a Watchman it seems as though Atticus won Tom Robinson’s case back when Jean Louise was six. “[Atticus] took his stand before a jury, and accomplished what was never before or afterwards done in Maycomb County: he won an acquittal for a colored boy in a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution

Maycomb County Alabama from the film To Kill A Mockingbird.

Maycomb County Alabama from the film To Kill A Mockingbird.

was a white girl,” (Watchman, 109). The loss of the case was something that was a point of trouble for the children in To Kill a Mockingbird. “It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd… ‘It ain’t right, Atticus,’ said Jem. ‘No son, it’s not right.’” (Mockingbird, 212). The children had a hard time trying to understand how a jury could convict a man who, in their eyes, was so obviously innocent. If Atticus did win the case then theoretically Jean Louise would have never experienced that turmoil. That would mean that this is the first time where she finds that someone is questioning or defying her morals. This could add to the pain because revelation for the first time in her twenties is harder than if she had realized at as young as six that this was an issue.

I personally have had similar experiences to Jean Louise’s struggles. I have found myself disagreeing on big issues with some of the people in my life who I love the most. It is extremely difficult to find that this person that you have looked up to in life and who you love so dearly holds some terrible views. However, even if it is a point of disagreement that I care a great deal about, I have found it impossible to completely dissociate myself from someone so important to me. In the novel it is Jean Louise’s father, who she revered her whole life. She struggles a great deal when his beliefs differ from her own morals, but in the end she still loves him dearly. I can relate to Jean Louise in this sense. While this may be troubling to many, it is a very realistic scenario. I have found, for myself, this book has provided a great deal of clarity and has allowed me to connect with the characters further than I was able to in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus has become a more human and less godlike character, and Jean Louise has new stories and troubles that I relate to greatly.

Works Cited

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. First Harper Perennial ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2016. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982. Print.




The Damage Social Media Does on Empathy

People of all ages are trying to learn and understand the etiquette of social media, as a fast growing platform in our society there is no one there to tell everyone the right way to behave. New things go viral every day, and the trending lists on the various social media platforms perpetuate them. Some of these things are promoting positive change, while others are attacking people or companies around the world. The big question is how is our ability to empathize is effected by social media. While I believe that social media can do amazing things in fighting a common cause or connecting us with people around the world, I believe that it can also cause a lapse in empathy.

16-year-old Phoebe Cannop

16-year-old Phoebe Cannop

About a month ago I was scrolling through my facebook when I saw this story that my friend had shared. It was about a teenage girl, Phoebe Connop, who took her own life out of fear of being attacked on social media for a picture she sent to friends in a private message. She was sixteen. In the photo she darkened her skin and covered her head with a scarf and sent it with a caption saying that this was the only way her new boyfriends parents were going to accept her. The photo was taken from the chat and shared on social media. After it received some negative attention she feared being deemed a racist and took her own life (Matthews).

This is a very extreme case of something that unfortunately happens too often on social media. Personally I have been witness to more than my fair share of facebook fights and social media shaming’s, fortunately, none of which have lead to such tragic outcomes. However, witnessing it regularly makes you wonder why people are so unable or unwilling to empathize with people on the internet. P.J. Manney discuses in her article things like compassion fatigue, confirmation bias, and our willingness to demonize the “out group” limit our ability to empathize on social media platforms.

The average time spent on social media rises to 1.72 hours.

The average time spent on social media 1.72 hours.

Compassion fatigue explains the phenomena where people are constantly bombarded with tragic stories and eventually get emotionally worn out. Even before social media this was a problem. Such as with the Columbine shooting, in his book, Dave Cullen describes how one news columnist cited that the victims families were “milking” the tragedy, the bigger shock was from the response of the readers who agreed with him, “‘All of us are sick and tired of the continued whining,’ a reader responded,” (Cullen, 300). And that was in 1999, before social media existed. Now people spend, on average, 1.72 hours on social media per day (Mander). In that time between the status updates and photos that friends post timelines are filled with tragic stories from across the world. We feel compassion fatigue with wars overseas, tragedies at home, and other awful things that occur in the world around us. We see the same thing over and over, and eventually lose the ability to empathize. We have to distance ourselves from the tragedies for self-preservation, to not allow the stories to compromise our own emotional well-being.

“When people see something disagreeable on social media they are ready to label the person, who they likely don’t know, as an other, as a racist, a sexist, or a bigot.”

Another limitation of empathy created by social media is confirmation bias. In this instance, confirmation bias refers to people only exposing themselves to “their own thoughts repeated in recursive echo chambers of increasingly radical and exclusionary thought” (Manney). In this way we are able to understand and empathize with the people who agree with us but when it comes to people who disagree or the “out-group” we find ourselves unable to empathize, and all too able to demonize. In the example of Phoebe Connop, she feared that she was going to be labeled a racist, as she had probably seen done before on social media. The negative attention that the post received from people who didn’t know her, and even some people who did, ultimately lead her to kill herself. When people see something disagreeable on social media they are ready to label the person, who they likely don’t know, as an other, as a racist, a sexist, or a bigot. The moral superiority that they feel to this “other” makes it easier to go on the attack. After all the person on the other side of the computer,  is just this screen name with the one trait that they have deemed them to have. Not seeing the whole person and the good parts of them causes an inability to empathize with their intentions, their mistakes, or their humanity.

I feel that while there are many benefits to a world that is constantly connected by social media, it can lead to problems in our ability to empathize if we are not careful with how we use it. It is important that we as a society examine how we react to and behave on social media to try and prevent anything like what happened to Phoebe Cannop from happening again.

Works Cited

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2010. Print.

Mander, Jason. “Daily Time Spent on Social Networks Rises to 1.72 Hours.” Globalwebindex.net. N.p., 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Manney, P.J. “Is Technology Destroying Empathy?” LiveScience.com. N.p., 30 June 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Matthews, Alex. “Halesowen Teen Took Own Life after Fearing She’s Be Called …” Daily Mail.com. N.p., 28 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.





Where Morton Gets it Wrong: Empathizing with Evil

Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) the murderous pedofile from The Lovely Bones

Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) the murderous pedofile from The Lovely Bones

In “Empathy for the Devil” Adam Morton discusses human ability to empathize over moral barriers, specifically, human ability to empathize with people that have committed atrocious acts. Morton argues that humans have a hard time empathizing with those who commit atrocities because they cannot fully understand. Morton states that humans can understand the why, but not the how. He uses the example of the murderous pedophile. We can understand why he rapes children, to satisfy his desires, and kills them, to cover for the shameful thing that he has done (Morton, 321). However, we cannot understand how he did it. We cannot understand the situation or state of mind that allowed the pedophile to actually commit the act. He explains that even if someone believes that they can feel empathy for someone who commits an atrocious act, they may likely be experiencing “pseudo-empathy, an empathic feeling that is not accompanied by understanding,” (Morton, 327). In summary of his article, he states that “we want to take empathy as easy, to ease everyday interaction, and we want to take it as difficult, to keep a distance between us and those we despise. ” (Morton 330). He argues that if we allow ourselves to feel the empathy for those who commit atrocities then we might be better able to empathize in everyday situations.

In the conclusion of his article Morton states, “we minimize the ease with which we make continuities with atrocious acts,” (Morton, 330). He says that if we didn’t do this then we would be better able to feel empathy in everyday situations. He doesn’t really make any connection for how allowing ourselves to feel empathy for terrible people allows us to better feel empathy for everyday interactions. However, he seems to believe that our refusal to feel empathy for those who do evil things is a quite cognitive process, and that if we allowed ourselves to let go of those barriers that we put up we could empathize with everyone regardless of their actions. But, the moral and imaginative barriers that prevent us from empathizing with those who commit appalling acts are important.

One thing that may contribute to the barriers that we put up against assailants is “familiarity bias” or the tendency of people to empathize better with those who are close to them or are similar to them (Hoffman, 232). Our moral values and our inherent belief that we are good, prevents us from feeling similar to those who commit atrocious acts. We are more likely to identify with and want to empathize with the victim in the situation.

Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza, pauses at his son’s name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial.

“We believe that the ease of self-stimulation may indicate a greater likelihood that the target falls within the observer’s “circle of moral regard”—the set of individuals for whom the observer feels some obligation to care (Reed & Aquino, 2003). Those inside the circle are entitled to our sympathy, while those outside the circle have no such claim,” (Chambers & Davis, 155). Basically humans are better able to identify with the victim because of our morality, and with this leave the aggressor out of our empathic emotions. If we allowed ourselves to feel empathy for the person who did the terrible thing then we would find contradiction in our morals. It is our moral barriers that prevent us from understanding how someone is able to do a horrific thing and thus prevents us from being able to carry out the act ourselves.

My fear is that if we allow ourselves to put down the moral barriers to empathize, as Morton suggests, we may allow ourselves in the future to put down the moral barriers and commit atrocities ourselves.

Works Cited:

Chambers, John R., and Mark H. Davis. “The Role of the Self in Perspective-Taking and Empathy: Ease of Self-Simulation as a Heuristic for Inferring Empathic Feelings.” Social Cognition 30.2 (2012): 153-80. ProQuest. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2014. 318-330. Print.

Reed, Americus,II, and Karl F. Aquino. “Moral Identity and the Expanding Circle of Moral Regard Toward Out-Groups.” Journal of personality and social psychology84.6 (2003): 1270-86. ProQuest. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.




Formal Assignment 1: The Relationship Between Empathy and Justice

The film A Time to Kill is set in the Southern United States during the 1980’s. The movie revolves around Carl Lee Hailey who is on trial for killing the two men who raped his daughter. The film examines race relations in the South during the 1980’s and how empathy plays a role in the American justice system. The term justice is an interesting term when looking at its role in the film. Justice tends to be looked at in one of two ways. First, through the court system, as in if someone committed a crime and they get convicted, that is justice. Second, through the idea of poetic justice, where each person gets the punishment that they deserve based on their actions. A Time to Kill uses empathy to promote poetic justice when justice through the law cannot be served equally to all people in a society.

Important to understanding empathy promoting justice in the film, Martin Hoffman describes various forms of “empathic arousal,” or ways in which people feel empathy (Hoffman, 232). The two main types of empathic arousal that are important to understand for this film are verbally mediated association and perspective-taking. Hoffman describes verbally mediated association as when “another’s distress is communicated and connected to one’s own painful past experience through the medium of language…” (232). Where as perspective-taking is how “people are constituted similarly and have similar life experiences, imagining oneself in another’s place converts the other’s situation into mental images that evoke the same feeling in oneself,” (qtd. in Hoffman, 233). The film utilizes both of these forms of empathic arousal in looking at the case of Carl Lee Hailey.


Perspective-taking is useful in the first scene, which graphically depicts the rape and attack of Tonya Hailey. The cinematography is extremely important in this scene at creating empathy among the viewers. The framing of the scene is majorly from Tonya’s viewpoint. The viewers witness the rape as if it is their own body that is being violated. They see the attackers and the blurred tops of the trees as if the viewer is Tonya looking up from where they are lying on the ground. When the scene is not from her perspective the directors chose to shoot from close up as if keeping the viewer close to the incident and not allowing them to be distanced by physical distance. This framing causes empathic arousal in the viewers through perspective taking. In those first moments of the movie, the viewer is Tonya and that is disturbing to the viewers and sets up the feeling of empathy in the viewers from which they watch the film. This scene allows the viewers to understand Carl Lee’s actions and causes them to hope for justice through this little girl. The graphic nature of the scene allows the viewer to wish for poetic justice when they find out that justice through the court system is impossible. This scene is vital in the viewer’s understanding that justice is served in the movie.

While the first scene in the movie is the most critical for the viewers, Jake Brigance’s closing argument is the most important moment for the characters in the film when looking at the relationship between empathy and justice. His closing arguments cause and emotional response in the jury, through verbally mediated association, that leads them to turn their unanimous guilty verdict to unanimously not guilty. (Shown in part below)

Jake Brigance vividly describes the attack on Tonya to the jury in great graphic detail. The empathy that he is able to invoke is limited by the empathy that the white jurors are able to feel. However, by his final words, “… now imagine she is white,”(TK), he is able to show them the limitations of their empathy and manipulate that to his advantage. By showing them this limitation the jurors are able to see the lens from which they were viewing the case. Only by bringing race into the closing arguments is Brigance able to eliminate it from the reasoning of the jurors. The jurors were undoubtedly picturing the details of the crime described against a black little girl, because it happened to a black little girl. This creates distance for the jurors because they are an all white jury. When Brigance switches the race in their head they picture their daughter, niece, or some other little girl in their life and are able to feel more closely what Carl Lee was feeling when he found out what happened to his little girl. When they feel what Carl Lee felt they feel a moral obligation to produce a not guilty verdict, which serves poetic justice for everyone.

The not guilty verdict might cause those who view justice through the law to feel as if justice was not served in this case. However, to the viewer who sees justice as linked to this idea of poetic justice, justice was served in the courtroom. The Hailey family and the black community was saved from the humiliation of watching the men who so brutally attacked Tonya receive forgiveness from the law through lenient punishment. Justice was served for Carl Lee by finally allowing the protection from the community that the law should have guaranteed him his whole life. Unfortunately justice does not always align with the law and this movie is a prime example of this phenomena. While it was apparent to the viewers and jury alike that Carl Lee killed the two men, which in a “judicious spectator”(Nussbaum, 72) sense, should lead to a guilty verdict, justice was served in the respect that each man got what he deserved.

Nussbaum’s judicious spectator is one who views a case without allowing emotions to play to big of a role in their decision. They look at the facts and evidence of the case and use those as the primary way to determine guilt in the case. However, without emotion and empathy, the view of the case loses context. Nussbaum says that the judicious spectator would allow just enough emotion to understand context, but not enough to cloud their judgment (73). Meaning that the judicious spectator in this film would look at the evidence of Carl Lee’s actions and the law that is written in front of them in order to form the majority of their opinion. They would feel the emotions that came from the graphic retelling of the rape, but a judicious spectator would not allow it to be the sole decision making factor. The jury in the film allows their empathy to make the decision for them. They were not acting as judicious spectators. They put themselves in Carl Lee’s role, which is something that Nussbaum warns against, “That is, he is not personally involved in the events he witnesses, although he cares about the participants as a concerned friend,” (73). By not acting as judicious spectators they compromised justice through the eyes of the court, however that does not mean that all justice was compromised.

While justice through the court system may not have been served, poetic justice is still viable. In the ideal society there exists the social contract theory, “an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each… by exercising natural reason, formed a society (and a government) by means of a contract among themselves,” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Which is what causes people to believe that justice through the court systems is enough. For these individuals, the idea is that Carl Lee lives in this society and that by doing so he has signed this contract to abide by the laws and in return society offers him protection. However, as evident by the film, and still today in society, the protection is not universal. In society there are groups that are marginalized and not equally protected under the law. This is not to say that they are not punished by the very structures that are meant to protect them. Evidence of this can be seen in the mass incarceration rates of Black Americans, “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites” (NAACP), or in the recent exposure of the unarmed black men being killed while doing seemingly normal things, such as Trayvon Martin or Terence Crutcher. Carl Lee knew that his daughter Tonya was not going to be protected by the law in the same way that a white girl would have been protected, so he decided to bring justice for her on his own terms.

Carl Lee Hailey’s acquittal in the film A Time to Kill showed that empathy brought justice through the film. The question for the viewers to ask themselves when examining the film is what is justice? A judicious spectator might look at the evidence and say that justice was not brought through the film because the evidence shows that Carl Lee did execute the two men. However, justice does not always align with the law. In this instance justice means that everyone gets the punishment to match the crime committed. Carl Lee Hailey did not deserve to spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse die, because he decided to protect his daughter when the society that he lived in refused. In this way, justice was served.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print.

“Social Contract.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Media Source:

https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=bKN1K2He8yg


Blog Post 3: Empathy, Real or Apparent

The film A Time To Kill relied greatly on the invocation of emotions in both the viewer and the movie characters. There are various scenes throughout the movie that rely greatly on the emotional pleas of the characters trying to create empathy in the viewers or the other characters in the movie. One could argue that the most important of these scenes is in the first few minutes of the movie. The graphic depiction of the rape, kidnapping, and assault of Tonya Hailey was shown to evoke empathy in the viewer of the film.

The brutal attack of this innocent young girl is disturbing to the viewers, as it is intended. There is a lot of difference between explaining a situation in words, and explaining it through a visual depiction. The directors of the film could have easily left out this scene and instead had one of the characters explain it. However, even if the character explaining it used graphic language, it still would not have had the same impact on the viewership. The viewers see the assault and feel empathy for Tonya and Carl Lee because they see the assault from Tonya’s perspective and feel the protective instincts that Carl Lee feels. People should feel upset that this innocent young girl was so brutally assaulted by these men. They should feel like maybe Carl Lee was justified in his actions.

The depiction of this assault in some ways clouds the definitive nature of the verdict in the eyes of the viewer. If the assault were not shown and merely described or assumed, then the filmmakers run the risk of the viewers not feeling empathy for Carl Lee and thus not understanding the point that the film was trying to make. It is an undeniable fact that Carl Lee did murder the two men who attacked his daughter. It is also apparent that the murders were pre-meditated and that Carl Lee was not insane when he committed the crime. With this information alone, the viewers might call out Carl Lee as guilty.

The empathy that this scene creates is real empathy. The viewer sees the depiction of such a brutal act carried out against a little girl, one of societies most innocent players. While this is something that a majority of the viewership has never experienced, they experience “empathic arousal” (Hoffman, 232). The empathic arousal that viewers experience is “perspective taking” (Hoffman, 233). While Hoffman describes perspective taking as putting oneself into the perspective of another and creating “mental images that evoke the same feeling in oneself” (Hoffman, 233), the viewer’s don’t have to imagine because the cinematography of the film puts the viewer in Tonya’s place. With feeling the empathy and anger from seeing the attack on Tonya the viewer also gains empathy for Carl Lee for wanting to protect his helpless daughter.

This movie examines a subject that is unfortunately not totally irrelevant to our society. Unfortunately our justice system is still not a perfect in allocating fair justice to all members of our society. Even though A Time To Kill is set in the 1980’s and society has improved race relations tremendously since then, it was not irrelevant in 1996 when the film was released, and it is not irrelevant today another twenty years later. Unfortunately this is something that we witness all too often. With the mass incarceration rates of Black Americans and the countless cases surfacing of Black Americans being killed without due cause, it is still a very relevant issue in today’s society. The film attempts to show the viewers this inequality that some people may not even be aware exists still in society. The point of the movie is to allow the audience a peak into a situation that they could never fully comprehend the impact of before.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Blog Post 2: To Kill a Mockingbird Closing Arguments

The task that the court has been given is to determine the innocence or guilt of Mr. Tom Robinson. Mr. Robinson is accused of raping Ms. Mayella Ewell. The evidence given in this trial should be enough for you gentlemen to acquit Mr. Robinson.

Look over at poor Mayella. She looks terrified. When she was giving her testimony she was shaking. How could you not feel pity for her? I feel pity for her. And that is the only crime that Mr. Robinson committed. He had the audacity to feel sorry for a white woman. He walked by her house every evening and saw her working hard to care for all of those children and he felt bad for her. She asked him if he could help her and he accepted. He kindly helped her break down the chiffarobe in her yard. Mr. Robinson is a kind compassionate young man who was doing his duty in society as a good young man. If it were any of you men who had been asked I am sure you would have done the same thing.

The arguments in this case against Mr. Robinson are based on circumstantial evidence alone. Mayella and Bob present us with two somewhat contradicting stories of what occurred that evening. However they were both accusing Mr. Robinson of rape. Mr. Robinson’s story contradicts the both of theirs and maintains his innocence. Honestly it is their word against his. That evening I was not there, the judge was not there, you twelve were not there, so how can any one of us make a judgment about what happened based off of the stories alone.

At this point I would say we should look at the physical evidence. However the state failed to report any medical evidence from the event. Mayella did walk away pretty beat up, however it was clear that her injuries came from someone who had ample use of both of their arms, which we learned Mr. Robinson does not. The accident with the cotton gin in his past has rendered his left arm almost totally useless. The only physical evidence that we have in this case should leave you with utter doubts about Mr. Robinson’s physical ability to carry out the heinous act that they are accusing him of.

Your role as a juror is to look at the evidence presented to you in this trial and decide if Mr. Robinson is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether you believe Mayella and Bob’s stories or not, there is no way you can look me in the eye and tell me that you do not have some doubts as to whether or not Mr. Robinson could have physically carried out this attack. That doubt is what I would say is more than enough evidence to require an innocent verdict.

Maycomb County is a place that I call home. It is the place where I have chosen to raise my two children. I believe it to be a beautiful place made up of reasonable men like you. I so deeply believe in the ability of the justice system to do what is right. I believe in you twelve men to acquit Mr. Robinson.


Works Cited:

To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. By Horton Foote. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford. Universal-International, 1962. Online. Netflix. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.


Blog 1- “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman

In “Empathy, Justice and the Law” Martin L. Hoffman addresses the role of empathy in the legal system. Hoffman believes that empathy has a large role in the legal system, but not without the presence of legal standings to back up decisions. He also warns that everyone involved in the case must be aware of their biases as to not allow them to hijack the evidence in the case. Hoffman uses the example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe used her own experience of losing her 18-month-old son to empathize with slave mothers who had their children taken from them to be sold. The book was widely read all across the world and played a large part in the abolition of slavery. Her empathy allowed her to influence other people around the world and create a positive social change in America. Another example Hoffman uses to develop his point is the case of Brown v. Board of Education, the famous case that overturned the de-facto segregation of schools. In the trial Thurgood Marshall, used narratives of the poor conditions that the black children faced in their schools to prove that separate does not mean equal. The heart wrenching accounts that the justices heard stirred up an empathetic response. Hoffman alluded that some of the justices felt the empathetic response and used that as fuel to search for any kind of legality that would allow them to overturn this ruling. This example is a more direct showing of how empathy in the courtroom itself can lead to a ruling. Hoffman does warn however, that there are issues with empathy in the courtroom. He sights four main issues: the fragility of empathy, “empathic over-arousal”, the familiarity bias, and the salience bias. Hoffmann states that empathy can be easily influenced by our relationship to a victim, the intensity of the cues that they give off, and even our own selfish motives. “Empathic over-arousal” refers to when a story becomes too much for the listener to comprehend so they distance themselves in order to lessen the impact on their own empathic distress. Familiarity bias refers to humans’ tendency to feel more empathy towards people who are like us, which can skew our views of people who are not similar to us. Salience bias states that it is more difficult to empathize with a victim who is not physically present. He warns that all of these issues can cause people to be blinded to the actual evidence that is being promoted and may skew the ruling.

In order to understand empathy Hoffman defines first five methods of “empathic arousal” (Hoffman, 232). Meaning five ways that humans identify someone is in distress, which causes an empathetic response. “Mimicry” is when someone sees the victim’s physical attributes such as facial expression or posture and automatically imitates them. This mimicry sends triggers to the brain, which cause emotions similar to what the victim is feeling (Hoffman, 232). “Conditioning” is the second form of empathic arousal. Conditioning allows humans to feel empathy for people who are in distress at the same time that they are (Hoffman, 232). “Direct association” is when someone is able to make a connection to another’s situation based on an experience in the past (Hoffman, 232). These three are all involuntary responses that allow children to feel empathy before their brain has fully developed the capacity to understand (Hoffman, 232). “Verbally meditated association” is when the victim explains their situation and the listener is able to understand what they are saying(Hoffman, 232). “Perspective taking” allows a bystander to imagine themselves in the victims situation and feel what they would feel if they too were in that situation (Hoffman, 233). The previous two empathic arousals require more cognition and thus are typically only seen after childhood (Hoffman, 233). It is important to understand empathic arousal to understand how people develop empathic distress in courtrooms, but also just in general.


Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.