Emotional empathy = cognitive empathy * anxiety

Where “cognitive empathy” is the new term for what I’ve simply been calling empathy: theory of mind that predicts the other person’s state correctly. This seems to be primarily a function of mirror neurons. Contrast with projection: theory of mind that produces incorrect predictions.

Back in high school, I remember an English class exercise where we were given a bunch of photographs of an actress making different facial expressions, and we had to match each picture to emotions that ranged from simple, like “happy” and “angry”, to complex, like “pity” and “contempt”.

I remember answering only 2 out of 25, and getting them both wrong. I was shocked to learn that what I thought was a look of pity was actually contempt. What I thought was happy was something else negative that I don’t remember. Apparently I wasn’t shocked enough though; this should have been a huge wake-up call that my parents weren’t telling me something important.

How to reconcile this with IBM Watson’s writeprint analysis that all we NHers are in the top decile for “sympathy”? Simon Baron-Cohen apparently provides a way, via Pumpkin Person:

In the past, I have argued that schizophrenia is the opposite of autism, but Cohen makes a coherent case for why psychopathy is the opposite of autism.

In psychopathy:

Cognitive empathy > emotional empathy

But in autism:

Cognitive empathy < emotional empathy

If I understand correctly, it sounds like cognitive empathy helps make you socially intelligent (you understand what others are feeling), while emotional empathy helps make you a good person (you feel what others are feeling, and thus care). People who are extremely high on cognitive empathy but extremely low on emotional empathy sound quite dangerous, because they have the social IQ to see your weakness, but are so heartless, they ruthlessly exploit it to their advantage. By contrast, people who are extremely high on emotional empathy but low on cognitive empathy can be easily exploited, because they want desperately to help everyone, but can’t see who will take advantage of their big hearts.

Pumpkin Person
Great interview with Dr. James Fallon

(Baron-Cohen must have improved on that theory since I read his popsci book, which I didn’t find impressive at all.)

Recall that I believe psychopathy is best understood as a fundamental inability to feel anxiety, so I think the lack of emotional empathy derives from this. That is, a psychopath feels the same way about someone suffering right in front of them as normal folks do about the idea that someone is suffering, right now, on the other side of the earth in India. It’s a small emotional reaction, almost instantly forgotten (like in Bob Hare’s electric shock test). I think this also explains why psychopaths need to be constantly reminded to think, “How would I feel if this were happening to me?” Same mechanism.

Working backward, anxiety magnifies and prolongs the experience for normal people, hence emotional empathy.

So using the following shorthand:

cog = small cognitive empathy
Cog = medium cognitive empathy
COG = big cognitive empathy

And so on. Roughly speaking, we have

Normal: Cog * Anx = Emo
Aspie: cog * ANX = Emo
Psycho: COG * anx = Emo

The fact that cognitive empathy increases with IQ is probably why neurotypicals with high IQs become more or less introverted: COG * Anx = EMO.

Note also that what people perceive as empathy is almost entirely contained in the cognitive empathy term. Thus, I declare my rough prediction a success: 80-95% of social skills is mirroring behaviors.

The call to action on this one is straightforward. People with Asperger’s read an NT’s emotion incorrectly, via instinctually different theory of mind, mirror the perceived emotion, behave in the way that aspies express said emotion (which produces “404 Emotion(Behavior) Not Found” in NTs), and thus produce social dissonance. Simplified example:

NT emotes HAPPY
Aspie receives SAD
Aspie mirrors SAD
Aspie emotes SAD
NT receives ???
DISSONANCE it hurts @#$&@

NT goes and talks to someone else
Aspie tries again with another NT (because 99% probability)
Aspie repeats until schizoid

Because humans are social animals, social skills are by far the most important skills to success, and there are overwhelmingly more NTs than aspies, this redounds to the primary source of our anxiety (both social and general). So what we aspies need to do is study how NTs emote (easy, big important) and then train ourselves to ignore our instinctive way of emoting, and instead do it their way as if we’re acting in a movie (hard, medium important).Pa


About Aeoli Pera

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10 Responses to Emotional empathy = cognitive empathy * anxiety

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    One thing that should be taken into account in mirroring is individual settings. If I see someone suffering and relate it to myself, then it will be modified by my own perception of what is painful/survivable/fixable. Mirroring the other’s state means their variables are lifted into your hardware, with your settings.

    Maybe this is why men are less empathetic in general than women. Testosterone increases ability to put suffering in context (via spatialization/visualization) and endure for the sake of the mission (being mission-centric rather than feeling-centric is a T thing). (Even if it’s often said that women have a higher raw threshold to pain).

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >One thing that should be taken into account in mirroring is individual settings. If I see someone suffering and relate it to myself, then it will be modified by my own perception of what is painful/survivable/fixable. Mirroring the other’s state means their variables are lifted into your hardware, with your settings.

      Exactly, this is a big problem for aspie-NT projection issues. If they think you’re getting wired up and neurotic and they genuinely want to help, they’ll push you to go to a party. And vice versa.

      >Maybe this is why men are less empathetic in general than women.

      Honestly I think they have an order of magnitude fewer mirror neurons.

  2. Yeah It's me says:

    I’m dealing with a narcissistic psychopath IRL at the moment.

    He actually tries to hide his giggles when he thinks he has really hurt and fooled me. Thing is I’ve known of his little game since he started on it over 12 months ago. Bloody Slav NT.

    They’re very good at lying, not so good at covering up their fucked up feelings of hateful pleasure.

    I no longer feel sorry for him or his brood, so he will go to jail…

    He’s inspired me to study analysis, I would enjoy being an intelligence analysis for the police, so I can help put the psychos where they belong. Whether I can afford it or not and persist doing it part time is a different matter.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Good to see you’re at least alive. I was worried for about a week there.

      I’m telling you man, you need to quit the drugs because you need to quit that social scene.

      • Yeah it's me says:

        Thank you mate, means alot, you know… The feels. I mean that whole heartedly.

        I’m on holiday with wife and kids, at very good Christian friends place, before I drop the cro crim in the poo. Which means we have to lay low for about 3 months. Takes that long for the courts…

        Yeah had to move, but in better position, in many Way’s. Will email you about it.

        So that is why I’ve been scarce.

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