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  • Published: 21 December 2011
  • ISBN: 9780718193348
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 208

Zero Degrees of Empathy

A new theory of human cruelty

World-expert Simon Baron-Cohen presents new discoveries on the importance of empathy, and the problems with evil

Simon Baron-Cohen, expert in autism and developmental psychopathology, has always wanted to isolate and understand the factors that cause people to treat others as if they were mere objects. In this book he proposes a radical shift, turning the focus away from evil and on to the central factor, empathy. Unlike the concept of evil, he argues, empathy has real explanatory power.

Putting empathy under the microscope he explores four new ideas: firstly, that we all lie somewhere on an empathy spectrum, from high to low, from six degrees to zero degrees. Secondly that, deep within the brain lies the 'empathy circuit'. How this circuit functions determines where we lie on the empathy spectrum. Thirdly, that empathy is not only something we learn but that there are also genes associated with empathy. And fourthly, while a lack of empathy leads to mostly negative results, is it always negative?

Full of original research, Zero Degrees of Empathy presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion.

  • Published: 21 December 2011
  • ISBN: 9780718193348
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 208

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Praise for Zero Degrees of Empathy

Bringing cruelty triumphantly into the realm of science, this pioneering journey into human nature at last delivers us from 'evil'.

Dr. Helena Cronin, Co-Director, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE

A compelling and provocative account of empathy as our most precious social resource. Lack of empathy lurks in the darkest corners of human history and Simon Baron Cohen does not shrink from looking at them under the fierce light of science.

Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, UCL

Simon Baron-Cohen combines his creative talent with evidence and reason to make the case that evil is essentially a failure of empathy. It is an understanding that can enlighten an old debate and hold out the promise of new remedies.

Matt Ridley, author of, The Illusionist

A book that gets to the heart of man's inhumanity to man... Baron-Cohen has made a major contribution to our understanding of autism

Dorothy Rowe, Guardian

Fascinating... bold

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

Ground-breaking and important...This humane and immensely sympathetic book calls us to the task of reinterpreting aberrant human behaviour so that we might find ways of changing it for the better...The effect...is not to diminish the concept of human evil, but to demystify it

Richard Holloway, Literary Review

Fascinating and disturbing

Alasdair Palmer, Sunday Telegraph

Isn't it lucky...that the very people who can't put themselves into other people's shoes, have a champion [in Simon Baron-Cohen] who, by dint of his curiosity, has turned it into an art form?

Lee Randall, Scotsman

Attractively humane...fascinating information about the relation between degrees of empathy and the state of our brains.

Terry Eagleton, Financial Times

Easy to read and packed with anecdotes. The author conveys brain research with verve.

Kathleen Taylor, Science Focus

Zero Degrees of Empathy is short, clear, and highly readable. Baron-Cohen guides you through his complex material as of you were a student attending a course of lectures. There's no excuse for not understanding anything he says... he is an outstandingly effective communicator of serious science. His passionate optimism, his belief that scientific study can deepen our humanity, lies at the heart of his theorising

Charlotte Moore, The Spectator

In a book that is partly a popular science treatise and partly a self-help manual... he interweaves life stories and clinical evidence in an engaging and informative manner... He is grappling with one of the most important questions for our times

Joanna Bourke, Times Higher Education

In his 2007 book Musicophilia, psychiatrist Oliver Sacks warned that although neuroscience offers exciting insights, 'there is always a certain danger that the simple art of observation may be lost, that clinical description may become perfunctory, and the richness of the human context ignored'. Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK, rises to the challenge in his latest book by combining basic science and clinical observation in an attempt to explain human cruelty... We should take Baron-Cohen's accessible book as an invitation to leave the comforts of smaller, more tractable problems in a genuine attempt to address larger social issues

Stephanie Preston, Nature

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