DLCC Lecture, Simon Baron-Cohen

On 16th January 2017 DLCC Fellow, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen will deliver a talk entitled ‘Zero Degrees of Empathy’ on the psychology of empathy.

This event is free and open to the public and will take place in the Danson Room, Trinity College, Oxford from 1:30pm-3:00pm. A sandwich lunch will be provided in the Danson Room for all attendees from 1:00pm-1:30pm.

In order to register please write to ralph@dlccoxford.org [PLEASE NOTE: Registrations for this event have now reached full capacity.]

Abstract How do we explain human cruelty? The standard explanation is in terms of ‘evil’ but this concept is not really an explanation at all, and certainly not for a scientist. I argue that a more useful explanation is in terms of the erosion of empathy. Empathy can be measured, and studied both in the mind and the brain (in terms of the functioning of the ‘empathy circuit’). Empathy is the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. Empathy comes by degrees, with individual differences evident in the ‘empathy bell curve’. I discuss how early experience of neglect affects empathy, and how social factors (including in-group/out- group dynamics) is a risk factor for reduced empathy. I also discuss the role of biology: hormones in the womb, and specific genes. There are several ways in which one can lose one’s empathy, for example as seen in the psychiatric condition of antisocial personality disorder. People with autism and psychopaths seem to be mirror opposites of each other, if one dissects empathy into its two major component parts: cognitive and affective. The study of individual differences in empathy helps us understand both cruelty and kindness, and reminds us that empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution.

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the university of Cambridge and the present director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC). Professor Baren-Cohen is considered to be Europe’s foremost researcher into autism-spectrum conditions. He is the author of Mindblindness (1995), The Essential Difference (2003) Prenatal Testosterone in Mind (2005), and over 400 scientific articles. In his most recent book, Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), which received wide praise in both the popular and academic press, Professor Baron-Cohen draws on years of research to argue that radical evil can be best understood as a failure in empathic awareness. As the creator of the films Mind Reading and The Transporters, devised to help children with autism learn emotional recognition, Professor Baron-Cohen has been nominated for two BAFTA awards.