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Chapter 3 introduces an original, multi-item measure of group empathy: the Group Empathy Index (GEI). The GEI modifies the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), which mainly captures empathy toward close family and friends. The GEI taps empathy for strangers, primarily members of socially distinct groups. The two measures are similar on their face, but they are conceptually and functionally distinct. The chapter also explores the measurement properties of a long and short version of the GEI, employing data from multiple surveys. Both versions of the GEI are reliable and valid indicators of the underlying construct. We also find that the GEI is not reducible to personality dimensions such as authoritarianism or other group-oriented predispositions such as social dominance orientation (SDO), racial resentment, ethnocentrism, linked fate, ideology, and partisanship.
The book ends with an epilogue on the COVID-19 pandemic that upended the world, causing massive loss of life and socio-economic devastation, as we were finishing our book. We present empirical evidence from our latest national survey in March 2020 on the role group empathy plays in reactions to the pandemic. Group empathy is the leading predictor of support for coronavirus-related foreign aid, above and beyond partisanship, ideology, feelings about whites versus blacks, political news exposure, and other key factors. As a discriminant validity check, we also analyzed the effect of group empathy on concern about oneself or a family member getting ill with the coronavirus disease. The results corroborate that the effect of group empathy we observe on support for coronavirus relief to foreign nations is not a product of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic getting worse elsewhere and eventually coming back to infect the respondents themselves. It is about concern for others. Further consistent with our theory, the association between group empathy and support for coronavirus-related foreign aid is much stronger among nonwhites as compared to whites. We conclude with a discussion about the power of empathy to improve intergroup relations in the post–COVID-19 world.
Chapter 2 introduces Group Empathy Theory. We define empathy as the ability to take the perspective of others and experience their emotions, combined with the motivation to care about their welfare. Outgroup empathy arises when this combination of skill and motivation is directed toward social collectives with whom one has little in common. We expect intergroup empathy to differ from interpersonal empathy and to more powerfully explain political attitudes and behavior. The theory further predicts racial/ethnic differences in group empathy due to variations in socialization patterns and life experiences (such as discrimination). Chapter 2 also discusses how Group Empathy Theory challenges one of the key tenets of Social Identity Theory (SIT) concerning ingroup favoritism and outgroup discrimination. We argue that minorities who identify more strongly with their ingroup will display higher empathy for outgroups – a prediction counterintuitive to SIT. In short, Chapter 2 lays the groundwork for unique theoretical expectations we then test in the subsequent chapters.
Chapter 4 explores the origins of group empathy. We investigate the association of group empathy with key socio-demographic factors and the ensuing life experiences. Specifically, we find that minorities, females, the educated, and older generations display higher levels of group empathy. The life experiences that spring from these socio-demographic contexts – particularly, exposure to discrimination, the quality and quantity of contact with other groups, and perceptions of intergroup economic competition – also predict group empathy and help explain socio-demographic differences on group empathy levels. The chapter also empirically tests predictions about the link between ingroup identification and outgroup empathy among whites, blacks, and Latinos. Social Identity Theory would predict ingroup attachment to be negatively linked to outgroup empathy across all groups. However, Group Empathy Theory predicts outgroup empathy should be positively linked with ingroup identity among nonwhites. This is exactly what we find. This finding challenges one of the basic assumptions of SIT given that the underlying mechanism of ingroup–outgroup bias is different for whites than it is for minorities.
Chapter 9 extends our examination of Group Empathy Theory outside the United States using data from the British Election Study (BES) in May 2018. The BES included our short version of the Group Empathy Index (GEI). It also included a ten-item individual-level empathy scale, which allowed us to compare the predictive power of intergroup empathy versus interpersonal empathy. Group empathy significantly predicts the British public’s opinion across a myriad of policy issues, including opposition to Brexit, favorable perceptions of immigration, support for equal opportunity policies, social welfare, and foreign aid. By comparison, individual empathy has very little effect on most of these policy views. In line with our theory and consistent with the findings from the United States, nonwhite minorities in the United Kingdom score higher on the GEI than whites do, while no significant intergroup differences are observed when it comes to individual-level empathy. The data indicates large gaps in policy opinions between whites and nonwhites, and group empathy once again helps explain these differences.
The book opens with a puzzle: What would compel members of one group to stand in solidarity with an outgroup in their fight for justice and equality, even when that act carries great personal risk and material sacrifice? We think a central piece of this puzzle is what we call group empathy: the ability and motivation to take another group’s perspective, feel emotionally connected to their struggles, and care about their welfare even when the individual’s interests, or those of his or her group, are at risk. We continue the discussion of this puzzle in two contemporary threat contexts: terrorism and immigration. Specifically, we ask why African Americans – who perceive a greater risk of terrorism on average – are less willing to support punitive homeland security policies that profile Arabs. Or, why are Latinos more supportive of foreign aid and more welcoming of refugees even if this means greater competition for jobs and social welfare? Once again, we think the answer lies in group empathy. We review the empirical studies used to test our theoretical expectations, followed by an outline of the book that provides a brief summary of each chapter.
Chapter 5 presents the results from a national survey experiment in which we manipulated racial/ethnic cues in an ambiguous news vignette depicting a potentially threatening situation at an airport. Compared to whites, African Americans and Latinos exhibited substantially higher levels of outgroup empathy and more favorable attitudes toward Arabs. In reaction to the experimental vignette, African Americans and Latinos were more likely to side with the Arab passenger and find the additional search and questioning by the airport security officer unreasonable than were white respondents. They were also more likely to support civil rights policies and commit to political action to protect the rights of targeted groups in this threat context. These reactions occurred even though African Americans and Latinos perceived themselves to be at greater personal risk from terrorism. Group empathy helps explain the racial/ethnic differences in attitudes and reactions we observed here.
Chapter 7 finds a significant relationship between group empathy and foreign policy opinion. Consistent with our previous findings, African Americans and Latinos expressed significantly higher group empathy in general and also specifically toward refugees, Arabs, and Muslims than did whites. Group empathy again helped explain racial/ethnic gaps in policy preferences as well as distinct reactions to experimental vignettes about humanitarian crises in other countries. On average, those high in group empathy attributed higher responsibility to the USA to protect other nations in need and were much more supportive of foreign aid. Group empathy was also associated with increased support for humanitarian assistance, asylum for Syrian civilians, as well as for military intervention to mitigate the humanitarian crisis depicted in our experimental vignettes. Furthermore, group empathy was the strongest predictor of opposition to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, even eclipsing that of partisanship and ideology.
It all started with a news story. We were scrolling through the news in 2011 when we came across the story of Irum Abbasi, a headscarf-clad US citizen of Pakistani descent, being escorted off a plane by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent because a flight attendant allegedly heard her say “It’s a go” on her cell phone just before takeoff. Abbasi explained that she had actually said “I’ve got to go” when the flight was ready to depart. Despite the fact that TSA agents cleared her to fly after searching her bag and patting down her headscarf, the pilot and crew would not let her back on board, claiming that she made them feel uncomfortable. Abbasi reported feeling humiliated and overwhelmed by this treatment. She missed her flight from San Diego to San Jose, where she was working on a graduate degree in psychology at San Jose State University. The mother of three later stated: “This time they said ‘we weren’t comfortable with the headscarf.’ Next time, they won’t be comfortable with my accent or they won’t be comfortable with my South Asian heritage.”
Chapter 8 investigates the effects of group empathy on attitudes regarding a variety of policy changes that took place after Trump’s election. We examine how group empathy affects support for the Trump administration’s border wall and family separation policies, as well as its attempts to end the Obama-era DACA program. We also revisit Trump’s travel and immigration ban on several Muslim countries after he turned his controversial campaign promise into government policy via executive order. We further explore how group empathy influences opinions about some other group-related political issues such as hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, misappropriation of Native American names, symbols, and imagery in sports, as well as removal of Confederate statues and monuments. Finally, we examine the relationship between group empathy and support for contemporary social movements, namely Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and LGBTQ rights. In all these tests, we find that group empathy is a powerful determinant of public reactions to the Trump administration’s policies above and beyond partisanship, ideology, and many other predispositions including racial resentment, even for issues concerning non-racial/ethnic marginalized outgroups.
Chapter 6 examines the effect of group empathy on public reactions to undocumented immigration. Results from a national survey experiment demonstrate that group empathy is significantly linked to attitudes about undocumented immigrants, even after controlling for other predispositions including partisanship, ideology, social dominance orientation (SDO), immigration threat, and more. While the significant effects of group empathy apply to all racial/ethnic groups, we find that minorities display higher levels of group empathy than whites do, which in turn lead to more favorable views of undocumented immigrants. Our experimental findings further reveal substantial intergroup differences in reactions to white versus non-white immigrants. African Americans and Latinos were far more likely to side with immigrant detainees in distress of all races/ethnicities and were also more supportive of pro-civil rights policies and actions compared to whites. African Americans were far more likely to take the side of an immigrant if he/she was nonwhite. Latinos, likely because they view the issue as more relevant to their group, were strongly opposed to punitive actions and policies regardless of the race/ethnicity of the immigrant. Finally, we confirm that differences in group-based empathic reactions help explain these racial/ethnic gaps in political attitudes and behavior concerning undocumented immigration.
Chapter 10 provides an overview of all our findings and offers additional avenues of research. We also discuss the many policy implications and political ramifications of group empathy, including what happens when it is lacking in specific contexts. In doing so, we consider the rise of ethnonationalist, far-right politics in the United States and many other parts of the world, and we discuss whether group empathy may counteract xenophobic, exclusionary appeals of populist leaders. The eight-year span of our data collection covers a stark transformation of the American policy landscape as the United States transitioned from Barack Obama’s presidency to Donald Trump’s. This allows us to contemplate how levels of group empathy might have shifted over time within and across racial/ethnic groups in the United States. We further consider how to cultivate group empathy at the societal level, in order to improve intergroup relations and social justice, and how to envision the role of educational experiences such as community engagement in these efforts.