Have we all been duped by the Myers-Briggs test?

Beware personality testsINFP? ISTJ? You’ve probably taken a personality test at some point. But here’s the bad news: even the most popular tests, such as Myers-Briggs (MBTI), are not to be trusted. Retake a Myers-Briggs test after just a five week gap and there is a 50% chance you’ll be put into a different personality category. In this article at Fortune Magazine, I reveal the shocking truth about  personality tests.

The Human Zoo: The tyranny of group-don’t-think

Anthony Gormley's FieldThere’s a fascinating new BBC Radio 4 series called The Human Zoo, looking at the ins and outs of who we really are – are we led by the head or the heart? what are the quirks and qualities that drive human behaviour? Episode 4 focuses on why human beings find it so difficult to admit when they are wrong, especially when they are part of groups. I’ve contributed some thoughts to the programme on The Tyranny of Group-Don’t-Think, which you’ll find in written form below… Continue reading

The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

This is the video of a talk I gave at the Royal Society of the Arts, which describes six ways to expand our empathic potential, drawing on everything from the empathy experiments of George Orwell to developments in industrial design, from the struggle against slavery in the eighteenth century to the Middle East crisis today. Discover why the 21st century needs to become the Age of Outrospection.

The full version of this talk is available as a podcast.

The ideas in this talk are discussed in my new book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It.

I published an article summarising some of these ideas at the Greater Good Science Center.

Dissecting the empathic brain: An interview with Christian Keysers

Why do we shudder when we watch a tarantula crawling across James Bond’s chest in a 007 movie? And what can looking into a monkey’s brain tell us about our capacity to share in the emotional experiences of other people? Answers to these questions appear in The Empathic Brain: How the Discovery of Mirror Neurons Changes our Understanding of Human Nature, the fascinating and entertaining new book by Christian Keysers, Professor for the Social Brain at the University Groningen in the Netherlands. Keysers, one of the world’s most distinguished and innovative neuroscientists, was part of the famous team at the University of Parma, Italy, that discovered auditory mirror neurons in the macaque monkey, which has revolutionised thinking about how empathy works in human beings. In this exclusive interview for Outrospection, I talk to him about his book, and how far neuroscience has really taken us in our understanding of empathy. Continue reading

Podcast: Empathy, mutual aid and the anarchist prince


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Peter Kropotkin was one of the greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century, who managed to multi-task as a Russian prince, renowned geographer and revolutionary anarchist. In this interview with Phonic FM, a wonderful community radio station based in Exeter, I discuss how Kropotkin’s ideas about ‘mutual aid’ relate to my own work on empathy, and why Kropotkin is a prophet for the art of living in the twenty-first century. The interview lasts around 50 minutes.

Monkeys, mirror neurons and the empathic brain

At a recent talk at the Royal Society of the Arts in London, the American economist and social critic Jeremy Rifkin gave a brilliant overview of his new book, The Empathic Civilization. Part of his argument that we should think about ourselves as Homo empathicus – empathic by nature – rests on some of the recent research in neuroscience that appears to demonstrate we have empathic brains. But what is the science really telling us? Continue reading

How to empathise with a hedgehog

Although you may not have spent much time contemplating the character of hedgehogs and our relationship with them, I know a man who has. Ecologist Hugh Warwick is the author of a brilliantly funny and engaging book called A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog, which has just come out in paperback, receiving rave reviews in The Guardian and elsewhere. I spoke with him about his mania for hedgehogs and what his researches around the world – he tracked down a hedgehog in China named Hugh and attended the International Hedgehog Olympic Games in the Rocky Mountains – reveal about our understanding of human empathy with animals. Continue reading

In search of our inner ape: An interview with Frans de Waal

de waal portraitIn an exclusive interview for OUTROSPECTION, I speak to the renowned Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal about his new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. De Waal, voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 World’s Most Influential People Today, is Professor of Primate Behaviour at Emory University in the US. Author of numerous books on social cooperation in primates, he is famous for arguing that empathy is a natural trait in humans and many animal species.

Roman Krznaric: What is the central argument of your new book, The Age of Empathy, and why do you think empathy is such an important idea in today’s world?

Frans de Waal: The evolution of empathy has been an interest of mine since my 1996 book Good Natured. Since then, so many studies have been conducted both by others and by my own team on human and animal empathy that it is getting hard to keep up. The field is blooming, especially in human neuroscience, but increasingly also with regard to animals. There are now empathy studies on mice, monkeys, apes, elephants, et cetera. Since the general public knows little about these developments, they beg to be summarized, which is what I have set out to do in this book, exploring the origins of empathy through all disciplines, from human psychology to animal behavior, and from brain imaging to the evolution of sociality.
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