The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty

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Overview

Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common?lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world.

In The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he ...

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Overview

Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common—lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world.

In The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse.

Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Paul Harris, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“Simon Baron-Cohen displays once again his ability to bring science to bear on troubling and controversial issues. Arguing that we explain nothing by describing acts of wanton cruelty as evil, he explores the simple but powerful hypothesis that such acts can be traced to a distinct psychological state - a lack of empathy. He backs up his claim with a wealth of research - from developmental psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and genetics. Those who have to deal with the aftermath of cruelty may not agree with Baron-Cohen’s analysis but they will surely be informed and provoked by his boldness and originality.”

Michael Gazzaniga, Professor of Psychology, University of California - Santa Barbara; author of The Ethical Brain
“Horrific crimes usually freeze the mind, leaving only a desire for retribution. Simon Baron-Cohen has taken us beyond those mental inadequacies. In this book, proposing a new way to think about evil people and empathy, he has laid the scientific groundwork for a future and brighter science of understanding the dark side of the human condition.”
 
Marco Iacoboni, Professor, UCLA; author of Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others
The Science of Evil is a compelling journey into the ubiquitous power of empathy in our lives. The devastating effects of ‘zero degrees of empathy’ are masterfully described and thoroughly analyzed. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s book shows how, with its unexpected and unsettling absence, empathy reveals its foundational role in human sociality.
 
Dr. Helena Cronin, Co-Director, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE
“Bringing cruelty triumphantly into the realm of science, this pioneering journey into human nature at last delivers us from ‘evil.’”
 
Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, UCL
“A compelling and provocative account of empathy as our most precious social resource. Lack of empathy lurks in the darkest corners of human history and Simon Baron-Cohen does not shrink from looking at them under the fierce light of science.”
 
Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist
“Simon Baron-Cohen combines his creative talent with evidence and reason to make the case that evil is essentially a failure of empathy. It is an understanding that can enlighten an old debate and hold out the promise of new remedies.”
 
Andrew N. Meltzoff, co-director of University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and co-author of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind
“What makes someone evil? What’s the brain got to do with it? Baron-Cohen confronts the most urgent and controversial questions in social neuroscience. Both disturbing and compassionate this brilliant book establishes a new science of evil, explaining both its brain basis and development. Baron-Cohen fundamentally transforms how we understand cruelty in others and in so doing forces us to examine ourselves. Reading this book invites us to widen our own circle of empathy—compelling us to grow and comprehend, if not forgive.”

BostonGlobe
The Science of Evil contains a huge amount of useful information for a rather short read…it’s an important early step in building a more robust understanding of our species at its most horrific.”
 
Psychology Today
“Rigorously researched…[Baron-Cohen’s] discussion of how parents can instill lifelong empathy in their children is particularly useful.”
 
Terry Eagleton, Financial Times
“Attractively humane…fascinating information about the relation between degrees of empathy and the state of our brains.”
 
Richard Holloway, Literary Review
“Ground-breaking and important…This humane and immensely sympathetic book calls us to the task of reinterpreting aberrant human behaviour so that we might find ways of changing it for the better…The effect…is not to diminish the concept of human evil, but to demystify it.”
 
The Spectator (UK)
“Short, clear, and highly readable. Baron-Cohen guides you through his complex material as if you were a student attending a course of lectures. He’s an excellent teacher; there’s no excuse for not understanding anything he says.”
 
Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)
“Engaging and informative.”
 

Dorothy Rowe, The Guardian (UK)
“A book that gets to the heart of man’s inhumanity to man... Baron-Cohen has made a major contribution to our understanding of autism.”
 
Ian Critchley, Sunday Times (UK)
“Fascinating... bold.”
 
Science Focus
“Easy to read and packed with anecdotes. The author conveys brain research with verve.”
 
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Baron-Cohen’s professorial background shines through in the book’s tone and in step-by-step, engaging prose urging both academic and lay reader alike to journey with him in scientific inquiry.”
 
Library Journal

“Clearly written and succinct, this book will enrich but not overwhelm interested readers…provides a useful perspective for understanding human pathology, including events like Columbine and the Holocaust.”

Library Journal
This book is based on the enlightened idea that psychological rather than diabolical forces are responsible for evil in the world. Specifically, lack of empathy causes a wide variety of serious pathological states from psychopathy, extreme narcissism, and borderline personality disorder to debilitating though potentially positive disorders like classic autism and Asperger's syndrome. Baron-Cohen (experimental psychology & psychiatry, Univ. of Cambridge;Mindreading: The Interactive Guide to Emotions) describes an empathy measure and traces its association with an "empathy circuit" in the brain and empathy genes. His prior works and numerous journal articles reflect his commitment to this topic for over 30 years. While social and environmental factors are discussed, the focus is on a brain-based theory of behavior. Baron-Cohen concludes with a summary of his ten new ideas, treatment for empathy deficits, a discussion of "superempathy" (e.g., Desmond Tutu), and a proposal to acknowledge empathy-based disorders in the standard psychiatric lexicon. VERDICT Clearly written and succinct, this book will enrich but not overwhelm interested readers, although some may bristle at using the same explanatory construct for autism and psychopathy. It provides a useful perspective for understanding human pathology, including events like Columbine and the Holocaust.—Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN
Kirkus Reviews

Fresh, compelling analysis of the human capacity for cruelty, and how redefining evil in terms of empathy can reveal new psychological insights.

Baron-Cohen (Developmental Psychopathology/Univ. of Cambridge; The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain, 2003, etc.) has spent 30 years researching autism and its neurological relationship with empathy,defined asthe ability to identify another's thoughts or feelings and respond appropriately. Historical examples of evil, such as Nazi torture, can be examined in light of this "empathy quotient," andthe author argues that everyone lies somewhere on the "empathy spectrum." Baron-Cohenexplores the complex interplay between social and genetic factors that results in an individual having a high or low level of empathy.Low or zero levels can result in cruel or hurtful behavior, though not always; a variety of factors, including early-childhood parenting, affect individual behavior. The author suggests that modern psychiatry, which identifies "personality disorders" as borderline, narcissistic or psychopathic, can reconceptualize these categorizations by instead classifying them as examples of zero degrees of empathy. Doing so would encourage new social and scientific approaches to diagnosis and treatment options, and may have long-term effects on how societies treat affected individuals. Baron-Cohen raises and effectively parses tricky ethical and biological questions (Should a person with zeroempathyserve prison time for acrime he doesn't understand was wrong? Is there an "empathy gene"?), backing up his arguments with scientific research. He also makes a point to declare his book an attempt to "restimulate discussion on the causes of evil by moving the debate out of the realm of religion and into the realm of science." Biological and psychological factors, not religious belief, he argues, determine cruel behavior. Only by examining the roots of those factors can we begin to understand empathy, which he calls "the most valuable resource in our world."

Baron-Cohen's theory isexhilarating in its implications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465031429
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 136,630
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. He is the Director of the University’s Autism Research Centre, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He has received the Spearman Medal, the May Davison Award for Clinical Psychology, and the Presidents Award from the British Psychological Society. He has also won the McAndless Award from the American Psychological Association. His previous books include The Essential Difference and Mindblindness. He lives in Cambridge, England.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 Explaining "Evil" and Human Cruelty 1

2 The Empathy Mechanism: The Bell Curve 15

3 When Zero Degrees of Empathy Is Negative 43

4 When Zero Degrees of Empathy Is Positive 95

5 The Empathy Gene 125

6 Reflections on Human Cruelty 147

Appendix 1 The Empathy Quotient (EQ) 187

Appendix 2 How to Spot Zero Degrees of Empathy (Negative) 197

Notes 201

References 207

Index 231

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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(2)

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 23, 2011

    Brilliant!

    It's about time empathy was examined logically and explained in easy-to-understand terms. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the psychology of those psychopathic, borderline-personities, narcistic, or autistic. Great discussion material. Two thumbs up.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 14, 2011

    Buy this on Kindle

    B&N charges $26 for this on the Nook, but you can buy it for $11,50 if you have a Kindle

    5 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 25, 2011

    INTERESTING - A MUST READ BOOK!!!

    This book does not only explains what is empathy and its importance in the society. The message will really sync into your hearts and minds which will really help you as a person. . .

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Very clinical when talking about the science of the brain, but i

    Very clinical when talking about the science of the brain, but it was interesting to have the spectrum laid out.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012

    Yes and No

    Interesting, here and there fascinating, too reductionist for my taste.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews

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