Why do people lack compassion

When there is a lack of empathy

How important empathy is for our social coexistence is particularly evident when this ability is limited - for example in autistic people. A lack of empathy and compassion is central to developmental disorders such as Asperger's Syndrome and other disorders on the autism spectrum.

Affected people have demonstrably difficulties in everyday life to empathize with the emotional state of their fellow human beings. Gestures or facial expressions such as a smile often mean nothing to them. As a result, they often appear listless in social interaction and behave “inappropriately”.

Unclear social signs

But that doesn't mean that autistic people are fundamentally incapable of compassion. As researchers led by Isabel Dziobek from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin discovered a few years ago, patients with Asperger's Syndrome can definitely empathize with others - if you explain to them how these people are doing.

Psychopaths have a "switch" for compassion. © Birgit Korber / thinkstock

If those affected received a concrete description of the feelings of the other in the test, they reacted differently than usual emotionally adequately. Compassion and concern were as pronounced in the autism group in this case as in the control group. According to the team, this suggests that people on the autism spectrum are only less able to interpret the social signs that reveal our insides.

A "switch" for compassion

The situation seems to be different with psychopaths - people who are also generally attested to have a lack of empathy. Experiments show that many psychopathically inclined people can very well put themselves in the shoes of their counterparts. Accordingly, they often understand well what is going on in a person's mind and how they are feeling emotionally.

However, despite their understanding of the other's emotional state, psychopaths do not automatically inherit these emotions. They have a kind of switch for compassion and only empathize when they consciously undertake it. A dangerous quality: serial killers and other “dark personalities” who are able to evade compassion can use the knowledge of the feelings of others without being distracted by compassion. In addition, they are not burdened with the emotional consequences of their actions, such as feelings of guilt or shame.

May 31, 2019

- Daniela Albat