The Wall Street Journal:
Everywhere you turn in American politics, leaders talk about the need for empathy. The best-known instance, of course, comes from Bill Clinton, who told an AIDS activist in 1992, “I feel your pain.” But it’s also been a recurrent theme in the career of Barack Obama, who declared in 2007 (while still a senator) that “the biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit.”
In a series of studies that I conducted with Yale graduate students Matthew Jordan and Dorsa Amir, just published in the journal Emotion, we compared people’s scores on two different scales, one measuring emotional empathy and another measuring compassion. As predicted, we found that the scales tap different aspects of our nature: You can be high in one and low in the other. We found as well that compassion predicts charitable donations, but empathy does not.
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