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Zero Degrees of Empathy: Simon Baron – Cohen


Jun 20, 2012 #human, #Penguin, #Simon Baron

Review by: Jenfi
Author: Simon Baron – Cohen
Publisher: Penguin

Zero Degrees of Empathy: Simon Baron – Cohen

I have always been interested in human behaviour, including what drives people to do things society deems wrong, maybe it’s all those times I’ve watched Criminal Minds, who knows? Needless to say it’s not my profession but an interest, so I was quite excited to read Zero Degrees.

This book suggests that “evil” is the absence of Empathy, Simon Baron-Cohen “attempts to redefine ‘evil’ in terms of the erosion of empathy.”– there is a flip side to this, deriving that there can be a “positive” version of the absence of empathy. This book examines whether the absence of empathy is responsible for cruelty in some people, looking at Nazi Concentration camps and Rebel Soldiers in Uganda, to name but a few. Mr. Baron-Cohen goes on to look at social interactions and biological factors, he also examines some medical conditions that can lead to a lack of empathy. Simon Baron- Cohen uses philosophy, brain science, developmental psychology, psychiatry and the perspective of evolution to argue this. As well as using his own extensive work and research he uses other great minds too.

This book is brilliant if you want to get into the theory of why we do the things we do, what drives us to be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I will warn you, this book is not for the feint hearted or for those of a weak disposition it details some horrific true events that caused me to feel a little nauseous, as Simon Baron-Cohen himself says, “You can’t write about human cruelty in a cheerful way,”. This book is insightful, and is a very interesting read. There are plenty of references to papers, for you to further continue your studies of this subject, at the back of the book. I would have perhaps liked to have read more case studies and anecdotes, I felt that at just over 130 (excluding notes and references) this book was too short, and didn’t go into enough detail of the “subjects” themselves, but that’s just me. I do score very high (72) on my EQ score meaning I am reasonably skilled when it comes to the core ability of identifying, perceiving and expressing emotions in myself and others. This is an Emotional Intelligence test that scores your ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. This can be found towards the back of the book and is quite insightful into your own levels of empathy.

I found this book to be enlightening, it is fascinating to read and I think could have some baring on how we perceive human behaviours in the future.

By Jen

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