Friday, October 10, 2014

Incapacitated by emotion

A popular new book, The Rosie Project: A Novel, has this in the free first chapter:
I decided it would be helpful to provide an example, drawing on a story in which emotional behavior would have lead to disastrous consequences.

“Imagine,” I said, “you’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.” I did an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaa.” I paused dramatically. “You have a gun.”

Hands went up everywhere.

Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. “With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming –”

The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, “Shoot the baby,” and soon they were all shouting, “Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.”

The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, “Shoot the enemy,” and then another said, “Ambush them.”

The suggestions were coming rapidly.

“Use the baby as bait.”

“How many guns do we have?”

“Cover its mouth.”

“How long can it live without air?”

As I had expected, all the ideas came from the Asperger’s “sufferers”. The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.

I raised my hands. “Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.”
While this is meant as humor, there is research indicating that high empathy is a predictor for low socio-economic status:
Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3).
This is plausible. To get ahead in life, sometimes you have to shoot the baby, metaphorically. A lot of people are incapacitated by emotion.

People think that empathy is a good thing. In others. Because they want others to understand and sympathize with them. For a lot of people, empathy is a handicap.

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