Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alcoholics lack empathy

I have occasionally posted bad psychology research on empathy. Here is the latest:
Male alcoholics appear to have a great deal of difficulty recognizing emotions in verbal language, a small European study suggests. The researchers also found that the men have a weakened ability to show empathy.
No surprise. Maybe the men were drinking in the first place in order to escape the emotions of others.
Because empathy plays a key role in interpersonal relationships, an empathy deficit might explain part of the wider relationship problems commonly seen in alcoholics, said study author Simona Amenta, a psychology researcher at the University of Milano-Bicocca.
No such explanation needed. Relationships with alcoholics are difficult for about ten more important reasons.
Previous research has suggested that alcoholics tend to misinterpret emotions and have a hard time distinguishing other people's feelings from their voices or by looking at their facial expressions or body postures. The new study examined whether male alcoholics also would have a hard time perceiving emotions in verbal messages.

The researchers looked at 44 men — half were healthy males, and the other 22 were recovering alcoholics who had been sober for at least two weeks, and were enrolled in a detoxification program in Belgium. Researchers asked the men to read stories that had either an ironic or non-ironic ending, and to answer questions about the characters' emotional states and communication intentions.
Irony means:
the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning
So the alcoholics showed low empathy by reading stories and taking their meanings literally? This is nuts. Surely there are much better ways of showing that alcoholics lack empathy.

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