Living with Uncertainty: Summary of findings

The project characterized empathy as activity that tries to understand the feeling and thinking of another person from their perspective.

The research produced a five-level, dynamic model of empathy that can be applied to any situation in which people connect with each other. The model and method of analyzing empathy was tested in situations of violence and conflict in UK, N Ireland, USA, Brazil, and Kenya. We examined the reactions of people to terrorism and urban violence in their everyday lives, decisions on giving to charity, processes of conflict transformation and post-conflict reconciliation, and police-community communication. In each case, we also investigated how professionals and non-professionals engage in dialogue, and how these interactions influence empathic understanding.

The research revealed what we call the Empathy Paradox: if it’s automatic to feel another’s humanity, how is violence, conflict, and lack of caring possible between people? The Empathy Paradox was resolved by adding the new idea of ‘dyspathy’ to mean those negative processes and inhibiting factors that resist or block empathy.

Empathic understanding was found to be brought about and reinforced by individual interaction, particularly face-to-face and visually. It was found that dyspathy, on the other hand, works most effectively at social group level, and in three major ways: by distancing the other person, blocking them, or lumping them as a group. The EMPS typology describes possible roots of dyspathy: Emotional – Moral – Personal – Social.

An unexpected, strong connection was found between empathy and places/spaces. The ‘Goldilocks Principle of Empathy’ describes and explains how encounters with others on the streets contribute to people’s dyspathic distancing from people felt to be threatening or demanding, that is extended from individuals to charities. The Brazilian study showed fear of violence leading to a parallel, but enhanced, ‘retreat to the safe space’ in people’s lives and attitudes, with implications for urban architecture and social interaction.

The Kenya study showed how imaginative leadership finds ways to ‘scaffold’ empathy, even during conflict, and how interpersonal relations of empathy and dyspathy connect out into wider contexts of shifting cultural traditions, drought and food security, and neighbouring conflicts. We found that successful empathy at community level requires leaders to first establish their own empathic understanding with those they lead; this finding has widespread implications for commercial, institutional, humanitarian, and non-governmental organisations.

4 Responses to “Living with Uncertainty: Summary of findings”
  1. says:

    Amazing to be able to summarise so effectively such a massive amount of research. These look like very important findings, with lots of implications for individuals, professionals and politicians. Elizabeth

  2. Vinciane Rycroft says:

    Dear Lynn, Wonderful blog. Is it possible to read the research paper for this? We are just about to announce the dates of the Empathy and Compassion in Society Youth Gathering and Conference this year: 23-24 October. Are you available at those dates? With warm wishes, Vinciane

  3. James Scott says:

    Yes excellent site here.
    I recall on many occassions saying i emaphized
    with histories baddies
    then jumped on by sanctimonious prigs
    who didnt know the difference between
    empathy and sympathy
    no doubt covering up their own nefarious activities.
    When really you cant judge any crime down here on planet evil
    even sanctimonious prigs
    here on earth as its such a hell hole
    And the same evil act you probably do yourself if not worse if
    put in similar circumstances
    i learnt to be a hermit and the 3 wise monkeys years ago
    or trouble as one is called on planet scum

    • James Scott says:

      P.S. Of course this kind of Psychology , branch empathy, research could be used negatively to divide communities for financial gain as this kind of research always has.

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