The video below discusses new research that shows that girls don’t develop much empathy until the age of 13. It is worse for boys who don’t start developing it until they are 15. In fact, most boys see a dip in empathy between the ages of 13 and 16. This isn’t shocking news. To begin with, this is about the age that children begin to be able to understand hypotheticals, and the essence of empathy is, “What if I were him?” Nor is it surprising that as boys have their bodies flooded with testosterone, they would get even worse on the empathy scale. Doubtless the male brain is turning onto empathy just like the female brain, but the hormone effect is swamping the cognitive effect.
Bottom line: men are pigs. I don’t care how old men are, in my experience they are lacking in empathy. And I think it has a big effect on our politics. Men are far more conservative than women. If only women voted, we would have a far more liberal society. There seem to be two different ways of looking at social ills. It’s like in the Old Testament: wrath or mercy.
The conservative perspective is that generally bad things happen to bad people. It isn’t a surprise that the Christian conservatives are so focused on the Old Testament. It is all about judging people: the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. So without knowing anything about a hungry baby, the conservative attitude is that its parents must have done something wrong.
This kind of thinking leads to some behavior that always shocks me. When conservatives do find out about some injustice, they are often more outraged than liberals. Most conservatives I know are appalled by the greed of the rich. But their operational assumption is always to avoid identifying with others and understanding what they go through. It isn’t that they can’t manage empathy, but it seems more difficult for them and so they don’t use it much.
There is another aspect to this. Conservatives also seem very prone to abstract empathy. This is seen most clearly in the abortion debate. The anti-choice people do show empathy. But it is abstract. They focus on the fetus, even before it has a brain. They ignore the actual living, breathing, thinking host mother. In this way, the empathy they show is not real. Mostly, they’ve been taught that God hates abortion and so they go through the process of this abstract empathy—”If the fetus had a brain and could feel pain, I’ll bet it would be terrible!” But it is little more than an intellectual fantasy to displace any actually feelings of empathy.
None of this should be taken to suggest that no conservatives have empathy and all liberals do. But statistically speaking, conservatives have less empathy and they use it less. And this is largely the outcome of the fact that men don’t have as much empathy as women.
See Also: The Rich Lack Empathy.