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Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty
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Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  289 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Zero Degrees of Empathy Is it possible that - rather than thinking in terms of 'good' and 'evil' - all of us instead lie somewhere on the empathy spectrum, and our position on that spectrum can be affected by both genes and our environments? Why do some people treat others as objects? This book examines an understanding in a study of what it means to be human. Full descrip ...more
Hardcover, 195 pages
Published 2011 by Penguin
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Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic)
Nov 25, 2014 Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Kim Stewart
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
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
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
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
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.
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.

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
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.
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.
A fascinating study of human interaction explained in such a way that even a non-specialist like me can follow everything!
Rebecca Stanyer
Excellent book but if you are new to psychology, it might be a bit hard-going.
Kerry Murphy

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
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
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
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.
Jane Scott
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.
Interesting reading despite not agreeing with the conclusions or the process.
Simon Koefman
A short but informative book exploring empathy, Cohen's theory being that cruelty is in fact a lack of empathy.He explores the neurological and environmental factors that can cause people to have little or no empathy. The main personality types associated this condition are psychopaths, narcissists, borderline personality and autism disorders. Cohen explains that those displaying no empathy are often lacking in particular neurological circuits , whilst abuse, neglect and other childhood factors ...more
**S a b i n e l**
This was a very interesting book. There is also a test for you to fill in. I loved how he talked about the positive zero empathy and how he situated the surgeons on this spectrum. I hope one day he writes a book about people who score above average on the empathy test and how they function. Finally, I agree with him that the world should strive for more empathy and that this is the most important feature a human being can have.
Offers a crystal clear understanding of human empathy levels. Could be better if these levels were the focus of the book, it is not. I liked the theory, description of good / evil by high empathy / lack of empathy, I felt the explanation to be Ockham's Razor. But I felt rather uneasy because of the theory's lack of elegance. Still very good read.
Prakash mackay
I am still struggling to understand the term evil he gives a good description of the a etiology of Borderline, Psychopathic and Narcissistic personality disorders. I am enjoying reading it. still struck by Krishnamurti's line"The greatest evil of our time is the loss of awareness of evil"
John Crane
An ok book. It seems that at times he was very into describing people with a lot of problems. Some of the theory was interesting, but I don't feel that it really furthered my understanding of empathy. Maybe it was more cutting edge when the theory was first published.
Paul Valente
Excellent and erudite exploration of empathy, what it is, how some people end up with very little or none and the impact this has on society, and the role brain chemicals, genes and environment play in its formation and maintenance.
Caution not an easy read but well worth plugging through. Great writer and a fascinating subject but somewhat recondite.
written in simple language and proposes the idea for cruelty or evil lies in underactive affective empathy.
Excellent book! Goodreads deleting words from my review when I post it so I'll leave it at that! :D
Bruce Williamson
Empathy is free. Unlike religion empathy, by definition, cannot be used to oppress anyone
Sam Locks
enjoyed book. particularly the beginning sections and the positive side of Autism.
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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.” 9 likes
“empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble.” 7 likes
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