Empathy: A Double Edged Sword

Author: Violet Cheung-Blundena
Institution: University of San Francisco
Author: Man Yoke Moke
Institution: University of San Francisco
Author: Pranita Ramanan
Institution: University of San Francisco
Year of publication: 2014
Source: Show
Pages: 193-210
DOI Address: https://doi.org/10.15804/kie.2014.05.12
PDF: kie/105/kie10512.pdf

In the domain of interpersonal relations empathy has been widely regarded as a valuable tool for peacebuilding. Past research has shown that if enough empathy is extended to a victim of violence, insight into the victim’s plight tends to give pause to the aggressor and also prompt bystanders to help. While the victim is the sole recipient of empathy in an interpersonal conflict, elevating the concept of empathy from an individual level analysis to a group level analysis encounters further complications. In intergroup conflicts, both parties in the conflict stand to receive empathy. In light of this, one theoretical question is whether both kinds of empathy, those directed to the ingroup members and the outgroup members, have similar utilities in peacebuilding. We reference the literature on intergroup contact and intergroup threats, to scrutinize the role of empathy in intergroup conflicts. We argue that ingroup and outgroup empathy have the opposite effects on group violence – directing empathy to the outgroup results in the denouncement of aggression, whereas directing empathy to the ingroup may lead to a desire to counterattack. Thus, rather than boosting the overall amplitude of empathy, striking the right balance is the key of leveraging empathy towards peace.

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