Continued from Part 1.
It bears mentioning that "people with low oxytocin levels suffer reduced empathy(link is external)... People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton.
Meanwhile, as was set forth by Paul J. Zak in his article titled The Neuroscience of Trust(link is external) that was published in the January-February 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, "high stress is a potent oxytocin inhibitor. (Most people intuitively know this: When they are stressed out, they do not interact with others effectively.) We also discovered that oxytocin increases a person’s empathy, a useful trait for social creatures trying to work together."
Interestingly enough, "stress is generally caused by two factors: physical exertion and fear(link is external)." This is true, regardless of whether the fear is real, exaggerated, or completely imagined.
Unfortunately, "fear is a major cause of prejudice(link is external). In the case of the other, we have 'a fear of the unknown, a fear of the unfamiliar. If fear is the father of prejudice, ignorance is its grandfather' (Stephan and Stephan, p. 38). This is not only common sense, it is supported by research."
The connection between fear and the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States is not going away because it's been well-documented, even though people without such fears voted for Trump for different reasons.
"[In fact,] a new paper(link is external) by political scientists Brian Schaffner, Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta puts the blame back on the same factors people pointed to before the election: racism and sexism. And the research has a very telling chart to prove it, showing that voters’ measures of sexism and racism correlated much more closely with support for Trump than economic dissatisfaction after controlling for factors like partisanship and political ideology:…
Within this data, the researchers looked at respondents’ answers to various questions about the economy, racism, and sexism. The questions typically measured how much a respondent agreed with statements like, 'I am angry that racism exists,' and, 'Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for ‘equality.’ The researchers then matched responses to the scores shown in the chart above.
Multiple analyses have found that support for Trump tightly correlates with racist and sexist beliefs….
The concern, then, is that this is the beginning of a modern trend in which politicians like Trump directly and explicitly play into people’s prejudices to win elections — and it works….
Studies like this put a bigger imperative on getting to the root of the problem and figuring out ways to reduce people’s racial or gendered biases….
To this end, the research also shows it’s possible to reach out to Trump voters — even those who are racist or sexist today — in an empathetic way without condoning their bigotries. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people’s racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue…. Given that, the best approach to really combating racism and sexism may be empathy.
One study, for example, found that canvassing people’s homes and having a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation about transgender rights — in which people’s lived experiences were relayed so they could understand how prejudice feels personally — managed to reduce voters’ anti-transgender attitudes for at least three months."
The power of such empathy conversations have been a common theme throughout my Psychology Today blogs. In fact, that exact study was referenced in my last blog, which was titled Protests and Force Don't Change People's Hearts and Minds.
“The only way to deal with fear is to face it(link is external). Avoiding it prevents us from moving forward—it makes us anxious." This is exactly what empathy conversations can and do accomplish.
Unfortunately, not doing so impedes empathy needed to make ethical life possible.
The ending of my article Things Are Seldom What They Seem is as fitting here as it was there and that ending was as follows:
As the Bible says, "Let us stop passing judgment on one another(link is external). Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.... A person may think their own ways are right(link is external), but the Lord weighs the heart.... The beginning of wisdom is this(link is external): Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."