Empathy is the secret ingredient that makes cooperation – and civilization – possible

Society is shaped by the unique ability of people to take on the perspective of another person – which is perhaps why modern societies have such extraordinary levels of cooperation.

Arunas L. Radzvilavicius, a postdoctoral researcher of evolutionary biology at the University of Pennsylvania, writes for the conversation that social norms can shed light on why people exhibit altruistic behavior.

People are much more likely to be nice to individuals who they consider as & # 39; good & # 39; than for people with a & # 39; bad & # 39; reputation.

But, he says, if everyone agrees that being altruistic to other employees gives you a good reputation, the collaboration will continue.

Someone who & # 39; good & # 39; to someone, a bad person may seem from someone else's perspective.

This opinion may be based on a different social norm or perception, and therefore reputations in real societies are relative.

Human societies are so prosperous, especially because of how altruistic we are. Unlike other animals, people even work with complete strangers.

We share knowledge about Wikipedia, we appear to vote and we work together to manage natural resources responsibly.

But where do these cooperative skills come from and why don't our selfish instincts overwhelm them?

Using a branch of mathematics, called evolutionary game theory, to investigate this characteristic of human societies, my co-workers and I discovered that empathy – a unique human ability to take someone else's perspective – can be responsible for supporting such exceptionally high levels of cooperation in modern societies.

Social rules for cooperation

The researcher asks where cooperative skills come from and why our selfish instincts do not overwhelm them. Using a branch of mathematics, called evolutionary game theory, to explore this characteristic of human societies, my staff and I found that empathy

The researcher asks where cooperative skills come from and why our selfish instincts do not overwhelm them. Using a branch of mathematics, called evolutionary game theory, to explore this characteristic of human societies, my staff and I found that empathy

For decades, scholars have thought that social norms and reputation can explain much altruistic behavior.

People are much more inclined to be nice to people they like & # 39; good & # 39; than for people with a & # 39; bad & # 39; reputation.

If everyone agrees that being altruistic with regard to other employees gives you a good reputation, the collaboration will continue to exist.

This universal understanding of who we see as moral good and worthy to work together is a form of social norm – an invisible rule that guides social behavior and promotes cooperation.

A common standard in human societies called & # 39; strict review & # 39; for example, rewards employees who refuse to help bad people, but many other standards are possible.

This idea that you help one person and someone else is called the theory of indirect reciprocity.

However, it is built on the basis that people always agree on each other's reputation as they change over time.

Moral reputations were supposed to be fully objective and publicly known. For example, imagine an all-seeing institution that monitors people's behavior and assigns reputations, such as China & # 39; s social credit system, where people are rewarded or sanctioned based on & # 39; social scores & # 39; calculated by the government.

But in most real communities, people often disagree about the reputation of others.

Someone who seems good to me may seem like a bad person from my friend's point of view.

My friend's judgment can be based on a different social norm or perception than mine. This is why reputations in real societies are relative – people have different opinions about what is good or bad.

With the help of evolutionary models inspired by biology, I explored what happens in a more realistic context.

Human societies are so prosperous, especially because of how altruistic we are. Unlike other animals, people even work with complete strangers. We share knowledge about Wikipedia, we appear to vote and we work together to manage natural resources responsibly

Human societies are so prosperous, especially because of how altruistic we are. Unlike other animals, people even work with complete strangers. We share knowledge about Wikipedia, we appear to vote and we work together to manage natural resources responsibly

Human societies are so prosperous, especially because of how altruistic we are. Unlike other animals, people even work with complete strangers. We share knowledge about Wikipedia, we appear to vote and we work together to manage natural resources responsibly

Can cooperation evolve if there are differences of opinion about what is considered good or bad?

To answer this question, I first worked with mathematical descriptions of large societies where people could choose between different types of cooperative and selfish behavior based on how good they were.

Later I used computer models to simulate social interactions in much smaller societies that are more like human communities.

The results of my model work were not encouraging: in general, moral relativity made societies less altruistic.

Cooperation almost disappeared under most social norms. This meant that most of what was known about social norms that promote human cooperation was incorrect.

Evolution of empathy

To find out what was missing in the dominant theory of altruism, I worked with Joshua Plotkin, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and Alex Stewart at the University of Houston, both experts in game-theoretical approaches to human behavior.

We agreed that my pessimistic findings went against our intuition – most people care about reputations and the moral value of others' actions.

But we also knew that people have a remarkable ability to empathically involve others' opinions in the decision that a certain behavior is morally good or bad.

In some cases, for example, you might be tempted to give a hard judgment to a non-cooperative person, while you really shouldn't do it if collaboration from their own point of view was not the right one.

This is when my colleagues and I decided to adjust our models to give individuals the ability to empathize – that is, the ability to make their moral evaluations from the perspective of another person.

We also wanted individuals in our model to learn how to be empathetic, simply by observing and copying personality traits of more successful people.

When we incorporated this type of empathic perspective – taking into account our comparisons, the collaboration rate rose; again we saw altruism winning over selfish behavior.

Even initially non-cooperative societies in which everyone judged each other based on their own selfish perspectives, eventually discovered empathy – it became socially contagious and spread throughout the population. Empathy made our model associations altruistic again.

More empathy, more collaboration

Moral psychologists have long suggested that empathy can act as a social glue, increasing cohesion and collaboration between human societies.

Taking empathic perspective begins to develop in childhood, and at least some aspects of empathy are learned from parents and other members of the child's social network. But how people developed empathy in the first place remained a mystery.

It is incredibly difficult to make strict theories about concepts of moral psychology that are as complex as empathy or trust.

Our study offers a new way of thinking about empathy, by incorporating it into the well-studied framework of evolutionary game theory. Other moral emotions such as guilt and shame can potentially be studied in the same way.

I hope that the connection between empathy and human cooperation that we have discovered can soon be tested experimentally.

Perspective readiness is most important in communities where many different backgrounds, cultures and norms intersect; this is where different individuals have different opinions about which actions are morally good or bad.

If the effect of empathy is as strong as our theory suggests, there may be ways to use our findings to promote large-scale long-term collaboration – for example, by designing nudges, interventions, and policies that promote the development of perspective skills, or at least to encourage the opinions of those who are different.

WHAT IS SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE?

Social intelligence is the ability to manage complex social situations through empathy and the ability to know oneself and others.

It includes features such as imagining the perspective of others, being adaptable, managing impressions of oneself and sticking to established social norms.

Social intelligence defines our ability to take on complex socialization, including politics, romance, family relationships, arguments, cooperation, and altruism.

Although & # 39; traditional & # 39; intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills and is largely determined at birth, experts say that social intelligence is often a learned skill built up through experience.