The Empathy of Torturers [...]

Understanding what a person is feeling does not necessarily lead to compassionate action. After all, torturers must understand precisely how their victims feel to be effective, but it does not dissuade them.

The first is “cognitive empathy,” simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking, this kind of empathy can help in, say, a negotiation or in motivating people. A study at the University of Birmingham found, for example, that managers who are good at perspective-taking were able to move workers to give their best efforts.

But there can be a dark side to this sort of empathy – in fact, those who fall within the “Dark Triad” – narcissists, Machiavellians, and sociopaths (see Chapter 8 in Social Intelligence) – can be talented in this regard, while having no sympathy whatever for their victims. As Paul told me, a torturer needs this ability, if only to better calibrate his cruelty – and talented political operatives no doubt have this ability in abundance. (Source)

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