Empathy doesn’t extend across the political aisle

Lucy Hyde

When we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we usually go all the way, assuming that they feel the same way we do. But a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that we have limits: we don’t extend this projection to people who have different political views, even under extreme circumstances.

The researchers chose to examine political differences because of the big divide perceived between people on opposing sides, as shown by earlier research. We can look beyond someone having a different gender or being from a different country, but if you’re a Democrat and someone else is a Republican, that person seems extremely different. “Political values are emotionally charged. People get really fired up,” says Ed O’Brien of the University of Michigan, who cowrote the study with Phoebe C. Ellsworth.

They were actually interested in the question of how we project visceral states. These are strong internal states that we want badly to change. For example, in one study, the researchers approached people who were waiting for a bus in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the winter. These people, it can be safely assumed, were cold.

Usually, visceral states are so overwhelming that people project them onto others: If I’m cold, you must be cold too. But the researchers set out to test just how far this effect extends.

Read More: Empathy doesn’t extend across the political aisle

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