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Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  487 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
In Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty and Kindness Simon Baron-Cohen takes fascinating and challenging new look at what exactly makes our behaviour uniquely human.

How can we ever explain human cruelty?

We have always struggled to understand why some people behave in the most evil way imaginable, while others are completely self-sacrificing. Is it possibl
Paperback, 195 pages
Published June 7th 2012 by Penguin (first published December 21st 2011)
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Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic)
Nov 25, 2014 Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in empathy, cruelty, autism and personality disorders.
Didn't get to read all of this because I originally got it out of the library to complete a degree assignment, but then found myself totally captivated by it. I think I only missed out two chapters in the end but ohh boy, this is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, smartly written, entertaining and very informative! It even debunks to an extent the idea that those with autism spectrum disorder and psychopathy don't have any empathy, rather, they both lack a specific type of empathy ...more
Nov 24, 2014 J K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short insight into the ways that empathy makes us human...or teaches us to treat others as human. Interesting ideas on the lapses in empathy that tend to be passed off as 'seeing red' etc. Recommended as a starting point into an evaluation of human evil, and how our brains work to rationalise both dealing with cruelty and inflicting it.
Kim Stewart
Aug 18, 2012 Kim Stewart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book two days ago and have almost finished it. Compelling look at the biological and environmental reasons behind human cruelty and kindness. Especially positive take on the ability of people who have autism or aspergers to still act in kind and moral ways, despite lacking a theory of mind. Loving this read.
Derek Baldwin
Jul 02, 2014 Derek Baldwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5/5 stars but rounded up as I'm in a charitable mood. This is very readable, and in its way very plausible, but this "new theory" is sorely lacking in cultural/social perspective. I guess if we view humans as these little machines that can be programmed in particular ways then we might find this convincing. Cohen makes some mention of twin studies, he admits that the "nature versus nurture" argument hasn't quite been resolved yet, he hedges some of his claims, but I think that he thinks he has ...more
Justin Hellings
Aug 17, 2015 Justin Hellings rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This area of knowledge was completely new to me when I read the book. I was really taken with the book, probably because of a reputable researcher presenting a very neat explanation of the human capacity to hurt.

Unfortunately, once I actually did some very basic research into borderline personality disorder, I found that the way Cohen characterises this group of sufferers is very mainstream but highly at odds with DSM5 diagnosis system. Talking to a counselling psychologist who has treated peopl
Pål Teigland
Jun 28, 2015 Pål Teigland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
A really good perspective on the moral amoral stance of degrees of empathy as opposed to the concept of 'good' and 'evil', and on the similarities and differences between the zero-degree of empathy states, be it the zero-positive of autism spectrum disorders, or the so-called zero-negative states of the (cluster B) personality disorders of borderline, antisocial, and narcissistic.
There are also some quick and interesting starting-point remarks on the highly empathetic people amongst us (several
Aug 08, 2013 Edmole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Baron Cohen is a leading scientist and writer on how neurological variations affect behaviour and the mind. I read this as I had been fascinated hearing about the Sally Anne test

that Baron-Cohen devised when I was on a course about young people with autism. (He is also Sacha's cousin, and he gives his cuz brief but mad props in this book.)

This book starts by looking at acts of 'evil' and concluding that they occur across cultures and across societal
Oct 31, 2012 Si rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Baron-Cohen has done some amazing work on autism and I’ve enjoyed reading a number of his articles in the past so decided to have a go with his 3rd book Zero Degrees Of Empathy, the subtitle being “A New Theory of Human Cruelty“. (Part of a series of posts on ‘evil’.)

He starts with saying evil is a pointless concept; he wants to replace this with a lack of empathy. “If I have an agenda it is to urge people not to be satisfied with the word ‘evil’ as an explanatory tool, and, if I have move
Aug 14, 2016 Justin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an effective and readable examination of the neuroscience and psychology behind human cruelty and "evil." He essentially tries to put some science behind explaining why some people seem to be "evil", which, as he points out, is an unhelpful explanation and subject to too little scientific study. It's interesting to consider that there's a broad resistance or reluctance to explain "evil". He argues that people who are described as evil have "zero degrees" of empathy, or more sp ...more
Jul 24, 2014 Crispy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
What's new about the idea that a lack of empathy helps explain cruelty, or the idea that a combination of environmental and genetic factors determine the development of empathy? Nothing.

Baron-Cohen's argument for reclassifying certain mental illnesses as empathy disorders is persuasive and his discussion of these illnesses and the associated environmental and genetic backgrounds make the book worth reading. In fact, if the book had stuck with this key idea, I'd have given it 5/5.

Feb 25, 2014 Stringy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why are people cruel to each other? This book is about the search for an answer, a fascinating pop-science take on the latest research into empathy. Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have been researching how empathy is created by the co-ordination of several areas in our brains, and how that system is affected by genetics, life experiences and damage via injury or strokes.

He's written previously about people on the autism spectrum whose empathy system works in a non-standard way. He's interested
Jan 28, 2012 Finn rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting read - with some very disturbing and upsetting bits in it - as you would expect form a book exploring human cruelty. Although a theoretical book, it is written in an approachable form; I found myself reading this both on the way to and back from work; the theory and clinical vocabulary did not put me off.
Sai Satish Kandukuri
This book has provided me profound insights through various illustrations of human behaviours. Its helping me to empathize with people better and looking at the other side of the perspective and what led someone to behave the weird way which you never liked.
Oct 30, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating study of human interaction explained in such a way that even a non-specialist like me can follow everything!
Rebecca Stanyer
Feb 16, 2013 Rebecca Stanyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book but if you are new to psychology, it might be a bit hard-going.
Kerry Murphy
Nov 08, 2013 Kerry Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Aug 30, 2016 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I totally agree with the premise of this book, that 'evil' is an unhelpful term in many ways and that we need to think about brain conditions that affect the ability to empathise. Having said that, I found it a slightly disappointing read. Most things are said over and over again, in different ways... even in the same paragraph sometimes. There's not much meat in it.

The first part of the book did provide a breakdown of different brain conditions that could make it impossible for a person to emp
Apr 15, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
BRILLIANT. This is a fascinating read. I did have a bit of bother with all the references to the parts of the brain and what bit did what etc. The first chapter was also a tad harrowing.
But this book really seized my imagination and truly blew me away. It investigates human cruelty and what drives, or allows it within the brain. Empathy, which is something that I used to just confuse with sympathy is a key player here. It is a fairly simple concept, but amazingly insightful. If we don't care ab
Pete Smith
Jan 16, 2013 Pete Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
great subject matter...the actuality of spirituality. Describing the theology of ' oneness ', the essence of presence, in scientific terms...that's got to be relevant. He doesn't claim to know anything, doesn't make egocentric claims as a reductionist...very cool, especially where psychiatric matters are concerned. He's noticed tendencies and sliding scales along spectrums, sliding scales that inter-relate. Has a delicacy with his astute observation - doesn't close it off as fact.
...i think tha
Sep 28, 2014 Voracious rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do like a scientific book that is straight-forward and readable. In the past I've been thrown by comments I've heard about Baron-Cohen's approach to autism, but in this volume it made sense to me.

I was particularly pleased by his inclusion of emotions in his description of an experiment he conducted. It's good to read "imagine our excitement when..." coming from a scientist.
Herbi (Heather) Williams
I have a specific interest in psychopathy do found this book to be informative and absorbing. I have a fair knowledge of both autism and psychopathy but did learn new themes and some new factual information. Simon is a world renowned professor with a vast knowledge of the subject and has a compelling voice through the book. Keep returning to it for 'top up's'!
Pascal Durrenberger
"Empathy avoids any risk of misunderstandings or miscommunication" - "The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference." - "Empathy is one of the most valuable resources in our world" claims Simon Baron-Cohen. Enlightening read!
Sep 04, 2016 joss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Found this brief book an easy, enjoyable and useful read on a subject that I want to learn more about - looking at a lack of empathy rather than 'evil' was a simple but powerful idea for me to frame further reading around
Jane Scott
Aug 05, 2014 Jane Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The way the argument was presented made it difficult to get through the book sometimes. But once you reach the final chapter it all comes together magnificently. Very thought provoking. An essential read.
Sybe Starkenburg
Empathy and tolerance are traits that make us human. Professor Baron book is a real eye opener, and his book inspired me to write mine.
Mary Edmunds
Fascinating analysis of zero empathy both positive (Aspergers) and negative (narcissism, personality disorder and psychopathy).
Jul 20, 2015 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: july-2015
Really interesting, makes you think about evil and the justice system, but pretty grim made me feel a bit anxious at some points.
Chris de Pavilly
Interesting book, summarizing the progress of psychological study into function and malfunction of the 'empathy circuit'.
May 16, 2014 Ant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Interesting reading despite not agreeing with the conclusions or the process.
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Simon Baron-Cohen FBA is Professor of Developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He has worked on autism, including the theory that autism involves degrees of mind-blindness (or delays in the development of theory of mind) and his later theory that autism is an e ...more
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“Parents who discipline their child by discussing the consequences of their actions produce children who have better moral development , compared to children whose parents use authoritarian methods and punishment.” 32 likes
“empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble.” 9 likes
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