Can We Revive Empathy in Our Selfish World?

Jamil Zaki: Modern society is built on human connection, and our house is teetering. For the past dozen years, I’ve researched how empathy works and what it does for us. But being a psychologist studying empathy today is like being a climatologist studying the polar ice: Each year we discover more about how valuable it is, just as it recedes all around us. Does it have to be this way? Homeless individuals present one of empathy’s most difficult tests. Acknowledging their experiences is painful; it induces guilt; it damages our sense that the world is just. Circumstances like these tip the balance in empathy’s tug-of-war, favoring avoidance. At Stanford, Jeremy and I set out to investigate whether we could use immersive technology to make caring about forgotten people easier, more natural, or even inescapable.

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