Being Sociable and Empathetic Don’t Go Hand-in-Hand

There are many reasons in our fast paced world to be socially connected to a plethora of people.   But is is really as beneficial as we think?  Past research has shown that feeling socially connected is both physically and emotionally good for you.

Time Healthland states that new research explores the issue of how people who had a strong sense of social support would behave toward those outside their circle.

The researchers, from Northwestern University, set out to determine whether feelings of connectedness led to tendencies to “dehumanize” others.  “By ‘dehumanization,’ we mean the failure to consider another person as having a mind,” says lead author Adam Waytz.

The researchers conducted a few experiments.  One experiment found that the participants who had written about feeling supported were more likely to dehumanize addicted and disabled people, lowering their rankings of various aspects of mind by about one point on a 7 point scale.

“Even though you are extremely socially connected, at some point, it comes at the expense of the ability to consider the full humanity of those around you,” reported Waytz.

Participants also tended to judge other people more harshly when with a friend than when with a stranger.  “We think there are two reasons,” says Waytz. “One is that experience of social connection draws a circle around you that defines who is in and who is out. It very clearly delineates who is ‘us versus them’ and when it is ‘us versus them,’ people outside appear to be less human.”

Waltz goes onto purport, “The more interesting reason is that social connection is sort of like eating. When you are hungry, you seek out food. When you are lonely, you seek social connection. When the experience of social connection is elevated, we feel socially ‘full’ and have less desire to seek out other people and see them in a way that treats them as essentially human.”

What are your thoughts on this research?  Do you have any examples where this has played out in your life?

2 responses to “Being Sociable and Empathetic Don’t Go Hand-in-Hand”

  1. Peter DiDomenica says:

    The capacity for empathy evolved over the 99% of our history spent in hunter-gatherer bands numbering a few dozen. Consistent with this evolutionary history the research shows when we max out socially in terms of an in group that matches in size in groups of our ancestral past, the need to b empathetic diminishes because it is no loner essential. This is bad news in terms of our ability to co-exist in a globalized society.

  2. Great comment Peter. It seems we are seeing less empathetic people and social norms that support a less empathetic society. The very insightful comment on the necessity of empathy no longer being needed is interesting. Perhaps, the Internet and global communication via a screen/words rather than face-to-face interactions also compounds this issue.

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