HBD: Human Biodiversity

Empathy Depends on Race

Some evidence that racism is natural.

(Health.com) -- Humans are hardwired to feel another person's pain. But they may feel less innate empathy if the other person's skin color doesn't match their own, a new study suggests.

When people say "I feel your pain," they usually just mean that they understand what you're going through. But neuroscientists have discovered that we literally feel each other's pain (sort of).

If you see -- or even just think of -- a person who gets whacked in the foot, for instance, your nervous system responds as if you yourself had been hit in the same spot, even though you don't perceive the pain physically.

Researchers in Italy are reporting that subtle racial bias can interfere with this process -- a finding with important implications for health care as well as social harmony.

And immigration policy more than anything, if we desire a society where, you know, people care about their fellow citizens.

In the study, which appears in the journal Current Biology, people of Italian and African descent watched short film clips that showed needles pricking black- and white-skinned hands. As they watched, researchers measured the participants' empathy (i.e., their nervous-system activity) by monitoring sensors attached to the same spot on their hands. They also tracked the participants' heart rates and sweat-gland activity, a common measure of emotional response.

"White observers reacted more to the pain of white than black models, and black observers reacted more to the pain of black than white models," says the lead researcher, Alessio Avenanti, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Bologna.

The researchers also showed clips of a needle pricking a hand painted bright purple. Both the Italian and African participants were more likely to empathize with this intentionally strange-looking hand than with the hand of another race, which implies that the earlier lack of empathy was due to skin color, not just difference. "This is quite important, because it suggests that humans tend to empathize by default unless prejudice is at play," says Avenanti.

That's one way to look at it. Another is that we naturally empathize with other living creatures that aren't humans who are members of other races. Or proximity leads to distrust.  But of course this is instead blamed indirectly on stereotypes, social conditioning, blah, blah, blah. The article even seems to suggest at the end that this could be used to justify affirmative action type policies for doctors, lest blacks not get treatment from people who feel their pain.

Once again, a healthy society flows with the current of human nature rather than demand we swim against it.  Achieving social harmony is difficult enough without the "blessing" of diversity.