Empathy & Anti-Soc Behavior

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPSY

Course Number: 6331

In psychological literature, the label “antisocial behavior” is customarily utilized to define a host of behaviors ranging from theft to bullying to homicide. Antisocial behavior, however, may take other forms as well, notably prejudicial and discriminatory behavior against members of minorities or other “outgroups.” Or, worse, actual physical aggression, massacre, genocide. These other forms are investigated within other areas of psychology, notably social psychology, and research findings are published, to a great extent, in different journals than those publishing “traditional” antisocial behavior research. In this course we will challenge this division, and by reviewing these two literatures, we will see how empathy, or lack thereof, offers a common denominator; a vantage point from which we can better understand all these forms of human behavior. Specifically, we will consider the possibility that antisocial behavior is facilitated by low levels of dispositional empathy, but also by social psychological processes that actively curtail empathic reaction to others (us versus them distinction, dehumanization). The discussion of empathy as a thread common to a variety of antisocial behaviors also serves as a bridge between the personality and social psychological literature.

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