I felt it before I understood it.  So did many conservatives who call the radio show.  Something was not right.  I mean, "Empathy" in and of itself is a good thing, right?  Empathy typically has a positive connotation, and is generally considered a virtue. But a new study from the University of California as reported by Eurekalert reveals that showing empathy is not always viewed favorably.  And that's where we were caught. Shouldn't we feel different than we did about the actions of various political characters or groups?

Case in point - what about George Floyd?  His death was tragic but why then did all the empathy expressed for him chafe?   There are any number of individuals who have been politicized and exploited by people with whom I strongly disagree.  The study would indicate my empathy is tempered for them by my feelings for those who were trying to raise empathy....and vice versa?

In experiments, people liked and respected the empathizer, but only when the character receiving empathy was liked as well.  "But do we always want people to show empathy? Not so, said researchers from the University of California, Davis.  Empathy has become a sort of 'catch-all' for desirable personal qualities," said Y. Andre Wang, who is a doctoral candidate and lead author of the paper. But people's views on empathy are actually more complicated."

The study showed that when a character was disliked, participants did not like the empathizer as much. Why's that? Study authors say “Our findings suggest that people see empathy as a social signal. Whom you choose to empathize with shows whom you care about and what you stand for. […] If people who empathize across social divides are repudiated, then empathy might not always bridge those divides. Instead, it might even reinforce them.”

 

The paper, "Evaluations of Empathizers Depend on the Target of Empathy," was published online in September in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It is co-authored by Andrew Todd, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis.