Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What do powerful people and sociopaths have in common?

NPR ran a fascinating story recently: When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart
It turns out, feeling powerless boosted the mirror system — people empathized highly. But, Obhi says, "when people were feeling powerful, the signal wasn't very high at all."
When things come easy to people (when they don't have to rely on others, when they have agency, autonomy, authority, money, power, etc.) they can kind of be jerks. They stop empathizing with people, or putting themselves in their shoes, or trying to understand what they are going through. It isn't that they can't empathize. It is just that they don't.

The weird thing is, the research in the NPR article reminded me of this research: Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically
"When explicitly asked to empathize, the differences between how strongly the individuals with and without psychopathy activate their own actions, sensations and emotions almost entirely disappeared in their empathic brain," explains Valeria Gazzola, Assistant Professor at the UMCG and second author of the paper. "Psychopathy may not be so much the incapacity to empathize, but a reduced propensity to empathize, paired with a preserved capacity to empathize when required to do so." The brain data suggests, that by default, psychopathic individuals feel less empathy than others. If they try to empathize, however, they can switch to 'empathy mode'.
It kind of serves as an important reminder. If you are in a position where you are calling most of the shots (nobody is telling you what to do, nothing is limiting you or slowing you down, you get most everything you want when you want it, etc.) then you might have some uncomfortable tendencies in common with a sociopath! WEIRD. But the good news is, you don't have to be a jerk! You just have to remind yourself that everyone else is a person too!


  1. This NPR story escaped my radar, so thanks for sharing it! It's important!

    May we all subvert the power structures in our lives and thus avoid sociopathology :)

    Love your blog, by the way, and I'm not even a mom :)

    1. EEK! I'm so honored, I'm such a huge fan of your work!! thank you so much!

      I was talking to a friend recently who said something that was so shocking, I was just like..the privilege...it burns. I didn't even know how to respond to him! I wished I could have just handed him the NPR piece. But it was still a good reminder that I probably am guilty of stuff like that too (hopefully on a way, WAY smaller and less offensive scale) and I should be on the look out too and aware that I am capable of that sort of stuff, unfortunately, too.

      thanks again for reading/commenting!!