Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

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Penguin Books Limited, Dec 21, 2011 - Philosophy - 190 pages


Simon Baron-Cohen, expert in autism and developmental psychopathology, has carried out groundbreaking research 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.

Putting empathy under the microscope, he explores four new ideas- first, that we all lie somewhere on an empathy spectrum, from six degrees at one end, down to zero degrees at the other. At six degrees we meet highly empathic people, while at zero degrees we meet the psychopath. Secondly, that deep within the brain lies the 'empathy circuit'. How this circuit functions determines where we each lie on the empathy spectrum. Thirdly, that empathy is both the result of experiencing parental love, and the result of genes. And fourthly, he asks an almost unthinkable question- while a lack of empathy leads to mostly negative results, is it always negative?

Full of original research and radical ideas, Zero Degrees of Empathypresents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals to treat others inhumanely, and challenges all of us to reconsider entirely the idea of evil.

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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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