The capacity to recognize and understand the emotions of others is a fundamental human skill. This capacity, however, can be contingent upon group memberships, as we are less empathic towards those who we deem different than us. What might be at the root of this psychological tendency to feel reduced empathy, and even counter-empathy (e.g. pleasure at others’ pain), towards members of outgroup? Social dominance orientation (SDO), or the extent to which people accept and promote group-based inequality, is an ideological variable that predicts prejudicial attitudes and behaviors. Maintaining inequality is facilitated by a lack of empathy, thus leading to the prediction that having high levels of SDO should lead to reduced empathy and increased counter-empathy in general, but especially towards outgroup members. Across four studies we show that for White individuals, the higher their SDO levels, the more they felt good and the less they felt bad when negative things happened to people and the more bad and less good they felt when positive things happened to people. More importantly, participants higher in SDO showed decreased empathy and increased counter-empathy towards Asian and Black targets compared to White ingroup targets. This research is one of the first to examine the relationship between SDO and state empathy, and has implications for intergroup relations.
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