Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

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Penguin Books Limited, Dec 21, 2011 - Science - 190 pages
20 Reviews
Simon Baron-Cohen, expert in autism and developmental psychopathology, has always wanted to isolate and understand the factors that cause people to treat others as if they were mere objects. In this book he proposes a radical shift, turning the focus away from evil and on to the central factor, empathy. Unlike the concept of evil, he argues, empathy has real explanatory power. Putting empathy under the microscope he explores four new ideas: firstly, that we all lie somewhere on an empathy spectrum, from high to low, from six degrees to zero degrees. Secondly that, deep within the brain lies the 'empathy circuit'. How this circuit functions determines where we lie on the empathy spectrum. Thirdly, that empathy is not only something we learn but that there are also genes associated with empathy. And fourthly, while a lack of empathy leads to mostly negative results, is it always negative? Full of original research, Zero Degrees of Empathy presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion.

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Review: Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

User Review  - Stringy - Goodreads

Why are people cruel to each other? This book is about the search for an answer, a fascinating pop-science take on the latest research into empathy. Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have been ... Read full review

Review: Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

User Review  - Derek Baldwin - Goodreads

3.5/5 stars but rounded up as I'm in a charitable mood. This is very readable, and in its way very plausible, but this "new theory" is sorely lacking in cultural/social perspective. I guess if we view ... Read full review

About the author (2011)

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor at Cambridge University in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. He is also the Director of Cambridge's internationally-renowned Autism Research Centre. He has carried out research into social neuroscience over a career spanning twenty years. The Essential Difference (Penguin 2003) has been translated in over a dozen languages and put forward the theory of 'the extreme male brain'.

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