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Examining the two faces of social ties and empathic behavior

The yin and yang of empathy

Cognitive flexibility and empathy between groups are key to coping with stress resulting from structural inequality and interpersonal conflict in uncertain times. Credit: KyotoU/Global Comms

Humans evolved as social animals. From childhood, we are taught the benefits of bonding and empathy as a strategy for survival and mental well-being – or at least that’s the ideal.

However, sometimes such ties turn into the fabric of tribalism, subjecting certain individuals to discriminatory behavior or attitudes.

Now a team of researchers from Kyoto University has extensively analyzed how social ties can exhibit a kind of bipolarity. On the positive side, interpersonal relationships are strengthened; on the negative side, social ties seem to manifest in the form of empathic distress and stigma-related fear.

“During the earlier phase of the pandemic, some people overestimated their concerns that their COVID-positive status would be revealed to others and cause them stress,” said lead author Shisei Tei.

The dark side of social ties also emerges in groupism and peer pressure, where fear-induced hostile stereotypes and vigilance are associated with individuals who feel left out.

“We’ve seen very little research into how people negotiated social ties, prejudice and conflict between groups caused by fear during the recent pandemic,” adds the author.

Tei and his co-author Junya Fujino collected qualitative evidence pointing to the two-sidedness of social ties and empathic behavior. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided substantial anecdotal data on anxiety, conflict and cognitive flexibility, corroborated by other studies using brain imaging techniques and neuroeconomics.

The results of their review surprised and inspired the authors to reflect on the tapestry of human social behavior intertwined with perceptions of identity and belonging.

“The disruptions of social ties, possibly influenced by recent war-related events and mass shootings, generalize our theory of intra-group social ties and empathy,” notes Tei.

Armed with the knowledge gained from this research, scientists and policymakers may be better equipped to solve problems arising from conflict and disruption between groups.

The author concludes, “Searching for new, science-based ways to encourage cognitive flexibility and empathy between groups can spur humanitarian action.”

The paper “Social ties, fears and biases during the COVID-19 pandemic: fragile and flexible mindsets” appeared on June 24, 2022 in Humanities and Social Sciences Communication


Social isolation and anxiety in older adults with cognitive impairment


More information:
Shisei Tei et al, Social ties, fears and prejudices during the COVID-19 pandemic: fragile and flexible mindsets, Humanities and Social Sciences Communication (2022). DOI: 10.1057/s41599-022-01210-8

Provided by Kyoto University


Quote: Study on the Two Faces of Social Bonds and Empathic Behavior (2022, June 24) retrieved June 24, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-social-ties-empathic-behavior.html

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