* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
Is Racism a Zero-Sum Game?
"Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing"
Norton, M., Sommers, R. Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 6 (3), June 2011, 215-218.
Do white Americans now face more discrimination than African Americans? This study suggests that whites think racism against African Americans has declined significantly—at their expense. Researchers asked black and white Americans to indicate how much discrimination blacks and whites faced in each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s. Both groups see racism against African Americans as declining over time. However, white respondents see racism as a “zero-sum game”: As prejudice against blacks has declined, they believe prejudice against whites has increased sharply, to the point that they think anti-white prejudice is now more prevalent than anti-black prejudice. The researchers suggest whites’ views on racism may be influenced by affirmative action policies, which whites may see as a threat to their educational and employment opportunities. —Nadine Lueras-Tramma
Where the Brain Feels Empathy
"Understanding Otherness: The Neural Bases of Action Comprehension and Pain Empathy in Congenital Amputee"
Aziz-Zadeh, L., Sheng, T., Liew, S., Damasio, H. Cerebral Cortex, first published online July 6, 2011.
This study investigated the neural basis of empathy. To do this, it studied the brain pathways of a woman born without limbs as she observed the actions and pain responses of other people. The researchers found that sensory-motor areas of her brain were active when she watched the people perform tasks that she could still perform, despite not having limbs. But when she watched tasks that she could not perform, or observed pain in body parts she didn’t have, her brain wasn’t active in those regions; instead, it was active in regions associated with reasoning, as she tried to figure out how the other person might be feeling. The results suggest that empathy occurs mostly in sensory-motor areas of the brain when a person can directly relate to the actions or feelings of another, but more in the reasoning areas of the brain when they cannot. —Alice Hua