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A note for Lesson no. 5, "Your Brain Secretly Works With Other Brains," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 87‌ is:

...when people are less familiar to you, it can be harder to empathize.

Sometimes the most important topics end up being the most complicated to study scientifically. Empathy is one such topic. Scientists have difficulty even agreeing on its definition. Here are a few works that can serve as a road map.[1][2][3][4]

As an example of how difficult it is to empathize with people different from us, studies of companies have found that interviewers, even smart and well-meaning ones, tend to prefer job candidates who are like themselves.[5][6]

Even more concerning, white American physicians under-prescribe pain medication for black American patients.[7] In the interest of fairness, it is still a scientific question whether a lack of empathy contributes to this awful situation. A similar effect is observed when physician and patient are different genders (though this study was a sample of convenience rather than a fully randomized sample).[8]

Nevertheless, some evidence suggests that people can feel empathy for others who are not similar to themselves when they value the welfare of the other people.[9]


  1. Hall, Judith A., and Rachel Schwartz. 2019. “Empathy Present and Future.” The Journal of Social Psychology 159 (3): 225–243.
  2. Zaki, Jamil. 2014. “Empathy: A Motivated Account.” Psychological Bulletin 140 (6): 1608–1647.
  3. Zaki, Jamil. 2019. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. New York: Crown.
  4. Zaki, Jamil, and Mina Cikara. 2015. “Addressing Empathic Failures.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 24 (6): 471–476.
  5. Rivera, Lauren A. 2012. “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms.” American Sociological Review 77 (6): 999–1022.
  6. Baer, Drake. 2014. “If You Want To Get Hired, Act Like Your Potential Boss.” Business Insider, May 29. https://www.businessinsider.com/managers-hire-people-who-remind-them-of-themselves-2014-5.
  7. Hoffman, Kelly M., Sophie Trawalter, Jordan R. Axt, and M. Norman Oliver. 2016. "Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs About Biological Differences Between Blacks and Whites." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (16): 4296–4301.
  8. Weisse, Carol S., Paul C. Sorum, Kafi N. Sanders, and Beth L. Syat. 2001. "Do Gender and Race Affect Decisions About Pain Management?" Journal of General Internal Medicine 16 (4): 211–217.
  9. Batson, C. Daniel, Jakob Håkansson Eklund, Valerie L. Chermok, Jennifer L. Hoyt, and Biaggio G. Ortiz. 2007. “An Additional Antecedent of Empathic Concern: Valuing the Welfare of the Person in Need.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93 (1): 65–74.