What causes ‘pseudo empathy’
Due to the many researches and experiments related to empathy being published recently, the awareness of empathy as a pro-social behavior has been raised. Many people now find empathy a very useful technique in dealing with social relations. However, question raises when people find there’re many cases where their empathy does not match the actual feeling of others; Many people started questioning: ‘what causes this kind of ‘fake empathy and how can we avoid it? ’. My thesis is that this fake empathy occurs when people did not realize the difference in background when they try to empathize with others, and only if we take the background into consideration can we truly empathize with others. In my first blog posts I state my argument by referring to a scholarly resource. In second and third blog posts, I further illustrated my point by providing examples of cases where people form pseudo empathy.
To answer the question ‘what causes fake empathy’, we need to first define this’ fake empathy’ appropriately. In Morton’s article ‘article for the devil’, he gives a definition for pseudo empathy in terms of people just understanding ‘why’, not understanding ‘how’ others did what they did. However, I find this definition in terms of ‘why’ and ‘how’ is still not comprehensive and a little ambiguous, so in ‘Disagreement with Adam Morton on pseudo empathy definition’ I mainly argued that even if people perfectly understand why and how a person perform his act, they can still form pseudo empathy because the intensity of their feeling is different, and that this is due to the background of people which varies individual from individual. To fully illustrated my point, I cited Nelson and Baumgarte’s test of how cultural similarity affects perspective taking and empathy for an interpersonal target. They concluded at the end that perceived cultural dissimilarity can reduce perspective taking and empathy.
In order to answer how pseudo empathy is formed, the cases on internet must be taken into consideration since internet is the most common place where people communicate with each other nowadays. In ‘Internet violence caused by pseudo empathy’, I further demonstrate that pseudo empathy is very easy to form, especially on the internet, because the anonymous environment gives people so little information about each other’s background. Different from that in real life, due to fast-update attributes of internet, any misunderstanding or misinterpret of a person’s motives can be spread very fast and cause tremendous harm to that person. I illustrated my point using the example of ‘Jay Chou‘s donation. After the strong earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan Province, Taiwan singer Jay Chou immediately donated 5 million RMB to Sichuan. However, rumor spread out that he only donate 5 thousands RMB. People, who didn’t know who Jay Zhou was before and had no idea of his background history, stared to ‘empathize’ with him and think he was using this little donation to humiliate people in mainland china and rooting for the independence of Taiwan. So In this case, people formed pseudo empathy towards Jay Chou. Also, facing such harrowing natural disasters, people are easy to form empathy towards victim, however, as we know this empathy leads to a bad results. This raises another concern that on the internet real empathy is easy to be manipulated and twisted into pseudo empathy, just as Tatjana Milivojević stated in his article ‘Empathy and the Internet: Positive Potentials vs. Risks’: ‘digital age enables empathy, which was once reserved for the narrowest community, to expanded globally. However, this optimistic view doesn’t take under consideration that human capacity for empathy isn’t limitless. The paradox of empathy lays within its possibility of being used as a means of control and manipulation.’
Fake empathy is also easy to form when people is influenced so much by seeing a person’s unusual behavior and lost the ability to related the action to his background in a proper way even though they know his background very well. In ‘Atticus is not a racist in Go set a watchman’, I mainly discussed the character of Atticus Finch in ‘To kill a mocking bird and Go set a watchman’. I state that Atticus did not become a racist in Go set a watchman as many people may say, and I still see the continuity in his character as he is still pursuing his justice and still holding his responsibility towards Maycomb people. People who think Atticus becomes a racist only see the action Atticus performed without considering his background: They formed pseudo empathy towards Atticus and misinterpret his motive. To make my argument, I cited paragraphs from the novel that shows Atticus believed in ‘The right to vote is a privilege to be earned by each man, that it was not something given lightly nor to be taken lightly.’ and this is his motive to deny the NAACP’s demand for vote rights. It is not about racial prejudice, but a simple rule: ‘there’s no free lunch’. Atticus is not trying to draw a line between Black and White, but a line between a well-educated man who is responsible for himself and the society and a man who is uneducated and can’t mind his own business. What he did seems very like what a racist would do, but if we want to truly empathize with him, we have to incorporate his action with his background and personality to fully understand his motive.
Based on the experiment that and the example I provide, I come to the conclusion that pseudo empathy towards a person is easy to occur when people don’t know the person’s background or they don’t have the awareness to incorporate his background when understanding his behavior.
Heinke.MS, and WR Louis. “Cultural Background and Individualistic-Collectivistic Values in Relation to Similarity, Perspective Taking, and Empathy.” JOURNAL OF APPLIED SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2009, pp. 2570-2590.
Nelson, Donna W., and Roger Baumgarte. “Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings Reduce Empathic Responding1.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 34, no. 2, 2004., pp. 391-401
Milivojević Tatjana, Ivana Ercegovac. ‘Empathy and the Internet: Positive Potentials Vs. Risks.’ Kultura (Skopje), 2015, pp. 103-112.
Miller, galanty. ‘Atticus Finch Is Not a Racist’.2015, Facebook
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman: A Novel, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2015.