Neuroscientists at M.I.T have been taking image scans of people’s brains to find out more about the empathy of people who are in conflict with one another. Given that empathy fails regularly, researchers Emile Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe asked themselves: “Can neuroscience help people overcome their longstanding hostilities?”
Emile Bruneau reminds us that “people fail to empathize with each other when they are in direct conflict.” He offers an alternative definition of empathy from your typical “stepping into someone else shoes and thinking from their perspective” to “stepping into their shoes and thinking from your own perspective.”
Rebecca Saxe points out:
“If you want to understand how people change their minds, the answer will be in how they change their brains.”
Key points that help bridge transforming oppression work with conflict transformation processes include:
- People in conflict are not as sympathetic towards the suffering of their adversaries. ..If we’re going to heal old wounds, the first step is to bring empathy back online.
- People treat each other differently depending on how much power they have…People with more power tend to have less sympathy to other people’s suffering.
- Asking people to leave their histories at the door and come together to work on common goals as individuals tends to work better for the dominant group.
- In one study, people from a targeted group were more favorable to the dominant group, after given a chance to be heard. The dominant group showed more empathy towards the targeted group after being compelled to listen.
Emilie poses the most important question to drive future research:
“Can we train ourselves to empathize more with someone from a different group?”
We highly recommend you watch both; and consider the questions:
What are the implications of these findings for the U.S. abortion conflict? And, what kind of research questions should the Pro-Voice movement ask so that we can learn more about how to transform the abortion conflict?