Zero Degrees of Empathy: A new theory of human cruelty

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Penguin Books Limited, Dec 21, 2011 - Psychology - 208 pages

Simon Baron-Cohen, expert in autism and developmental psychopathology, has always wanted to isolate and understand the factors that cause people to treat others as if they were mere objects. In this book he proposes a radical shift, turning the focus away from evil and on to the central factor, empathy. Unlike the concept of evil, he argues, empathy has real explanatory power.

Putting empathy under the microscope he explores four new ideas: firstly, that we all lie somewhere on an empathy spectrum, from high to low, from six degrees to zero degrees. Secondly that, deep within the brain lies the 'empathy circuit'. How this circuit functions determines where we lie on the empathy spectrum. Thirdly, that empathy is not only something we learn but that there are also genes associated with empathy. And fourthly, while a lack of empathy leads to mostly negative results, is it always negative?

Full of original research, Zero Degrees of Empathy presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - kk1 - LibraryThing

This book is like a catch 22 on empathy and I say that after mulling it over for a few weeks. I wasn't keen to read it, because I am not keen on the phrase - "extreme male brain theory of autism". I ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - themythbookshelf - LibraryThing

Baron-Cohen begins with a couple of grappling chapters on the concept of evil, calling for the more appropriate and less abstract phrase "empathy erosion". He admits that though we are all capable of ... Read full review

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About the author (2011)

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor at Cambridge University in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. He is also the Director of Cambridge's internationally-renowned Autism Research Centre. He has carried out research into social neuroscience over a career spanning twenty years. The Essential Difference (Penguin 2003) has been translated in over a dozen languages and put forward the theory of 'the extreme male brain'.

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