This 2014 UK study tried to show that empathetic actions were very context-dependent. It mainly studied causing overt pain to another person.
The lead researcher stated:
“We were interested in quantifying how much people care about others, relative to themselves. A lack of concern for others’ suffering lies at the heart of many psychiatric disorders such as psychopathy, so developing precise laboratory measures of empathy and altruism will be important for probing the brain processes that underlie antisocial behavior.”
The researchers didn’t provide direct evidence of genuine empathy – the subjects’ emotions of sensing and sharing the emotions of another person.
The study was designed to cause sensations of pain and draw conclusions about empathetic feelings. The subjects’ limbic system and lower brains were never measured, however.
Why did the researchers decide to only infer these feelings and sensations from actions and reports? Why wasn’t this inferred evidence confirmed with direct measurements of the brain areas that primarily process feelings and sensations?
- At no time during the experiment did the subjects see or hear or touch the person whom they caused pain. Wouldn’t it be difficult for the subjects to feel authentic empathy for a disembodied presence?
- We’re informed by the Task performance and beliefs about task responses are solely cerebral exercises study that it’s inaccurate to characterize subjects’ task responses as feelings.
- We know from the Problematic research: If you don’t feel empathy for a patient, is the solution to fake it? study that people’s cerebrums are easily capable of generating a proxy for empathy.
This study’s findings concerning empathy involved inauthentic empathy – the non-feeling, cerebral exercise, faking-it kind.
http://www.pnas.org/content/111/48/17320.full “Harm to others outweighs harm to self in moral decision making”