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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Fritz Breithaupt 

Does Empathy have Dark Sides or is it all Light?
Part 1 and Part 2

Fritz Breithaupt

Fritz Breithaupt is Provost Professor at Indiana University Bloomington. He founded and directs the Experimental Humanities Laboratory at IU. He is author of the book, The Dark Sides of Empathy.

Fritz argues that some of the dark sides of empathy include; self-loss, side taking, identifying with the helper, sadistic empathy and vampiristic empathy. Edwin argues that empathy is light and the so-called dark sides are not empathy, but blocks to empathy.

Fritz says (and Edwin agrees) that a benefit of empathy is;


 "Empathy intensifies our experiences and widens the scope of our perceptions. We feel more than we could with-out it, and it enables us to participate more fully in the lives of others, even fictional characters."


 "Empathy is, of course, a critical factor in healthy long-term relationships, too, making it easier for us to understand our family members or romantic partners and anticipate their emotional needs and reactions. Love without empathy would be a sad thing for most people."

Sub Conferences: Science






Part 1: Does Empathy have Dark Sides or is it All Light?
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(In this dialogue we covered)

Empathy Definitions
Chapter 1. Self-Loss
Chapter 2. Painting in Black and White




Part 2: Does Empathy have Dark Sides or is it All Light?
(View Video On Youtube or On Facebook)
In this dialogue we covered;

Chapter 3. False Empathy, Filtered Empathy
Chapter 4. Empathetic Sadism
Chapter 5. Vampiristic Empathy






The Dark Sides of Empathy


Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people often commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification and a desire to increase empathy. Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts or exploiting others.

Empathy plays a central part in a variety of highly problematic behaviors. From mere callousness to terrorism, exploitation to sadism, and emotional vampirism to stalking, empathy all too often motivates and promotes malicious acts.


After tracing the development of empathy as an idea in German philosophy, Breithaupt looks at a wide-ranging series of case studies―from Stockholm syndrome to Angela Merkel's refugee policy and from novels of the romantic era to helicopter parents and murderous cheerleader moms―to uncover how narcissism, sadism, and dangerous celebrity obsessions alike find their roots in the quality that, arguably, most makes us human.



Book Contents



1. Self Loss

2. Painting in Black and White

3. False Empathy, Filtered Empathy

4. Empathetic Sadism

5. Vampiristic Empathy

Epilogue: Empathy between Morality and Aesthetics





Empathy is on the decline. This may not be as bad as it sounds
July 26, 2019
Fritz Breithaupt
I recently showed a YouTube clip to my class of 100+ college students, where a high-schooler complained bitterly about how hard he had to work. He claimed he would need to toil until 9 pm that night to complete his homework, and he doubted he could pull it off. The students in my class burst out laughing. Even the most sympathetic student in my class had a hard time expressing empathy, even though they believed the student’s suffering was sincere. Empathy is under pressure these days. This should come as no surprise.



CIBER Focus: "Empathy and Migration in the West" with Fritz Breithaupt
September 20, 2018

"Dr. Breithaupt is known for his research in the fields of empathy, human narratives, and moral reasoning. His most recent publication, “The Dark Sides of Empathy,” takes a closer, more nuanced look at what drives human empathy for one another, and some of the underlying effects of this phenomenon around the world. "

Empathy makes us human, I'm not against it,  we should know the costs.

  • Empathy associated with self loss.

    • Doctors suffer exhaustion from over empathizing with their patients.

    • they detached.

  • Bad for people we empathize with.

  •  Side taking - take a side in a conflict

    •  Take a side and identify with a side and

  • it can be good or bad to the extremes;

  • Sadistic Empathy

    • you torture the person.

    • used in bullying or embarrassing.

  • Vampiristic Empathy

    • live vicariously through others.

    • for fans can lead to stalking

    • helicopter parents. - live their life through their kids.

    • they suck out the blood of their kids.

    • leads to parental control so they can live their life though  the kids.

Effect of Empathy on Migration Issues 

  • empathy was factor to open the boarders

  • photo of drowned boy photo

  • was done as the identifying as the hero

Does empathy waver over time?

  1. empathy is good for short term

  2. want to return to ourselves

Empathy and bridging political divides

  • people have said we need empathy for conflict resolution but that has not panned out

  • empathy deepens divides

  • in group/out group bias

  • people take a side. (take the side of empathy)

  • terrorist take a side.. they have empathy for their side.  (the in-groups can be authoritarian)

  • South Africa - truth and reconciliation doesn't use empathy

How to prevent un intended consequences of empathy.

  • he is not against empathy, helps us get out of our own life.

  • we should have empathy

  • just be aware of the costs

Empathy with one person you may neglect the other.

  • we ca train empathy

  • empathy is our best tool to bridge things

Empathy can make us not objective




The Diversity of Empathy / Die vielen Gesichter der Empathie / Fast Forward Science 2018


  • everyday empathic sadism



The Dark Sides of Empathy


Why interested in empathy?

  • had a lot of different questions come up

What is your religious background?

  • Comes from Pietist background

  • Nietzsche -

3 types of empathy

people think empathy is automatically good.

  • 1.. Understanding

  • 2. sharing emotions. - main focus - co experiencing the experience of others.

  • 3.helping others

5 sides of Negative Empathy?

1.   Conflict - people think empathy leads to resolution of conflict.

  • empathy more often than not plays a polarizing role.

  • conflict gets deepened.

  • we empathize with one side and not the other.

  • [side taking is a block to empathy]

  • we demonize the bad others (that is a block to empathy)

2. Vampiristic Empathy

  • empathy allow you to share other peoples experience.

  • you can manipulate others so they have experiences that  you want

  • example is helicopter or stage, sports  parents

  • is no longer in the interest of the kids but is about the parent

  • [the empathy circle is a model of how this is resolved]

3. Sadistic Empathy

  • everyday power abuse

  • manipulations - teasing, embarrassing

  • torturer

  • bullying

  • teacher calling kids to the front of the blackboard to shame them.

  • [everyday power over behaviour]

  • example with gift giving

  • Trump - polarizes people

Questions the premise that empathy is good for the person we have empathy for.

  • he is skeptical about that.. empathy is good for the empathizer

  • we get something out of it..

  • empathy for empathy sake

  • heuristic empathy

  • if it is good for the others is not so clear.

  • We tend to empathize with people who are more like us

  • missionaries - has been more about doing it for self and ego

    • that is false empathy

    • identify as the hero helper

Should empathy be taught, how and for what reason?

  • don't promote empathy for moral reasons - good/bad,

  • empathy supports a richer life - widens the scope of experience

  • yes it should be taught

  • schools should teach empathy

  • empathy opens us through dialogue

JNAD180703 008 TalkBreithaup 01




The Blocking of Empathy, Narrative Empathy, and a Three-Person Model of Empathy
Fritz Breithaupt

This paper proposes a three-step model of empathy. It assumes that people have various empathy related mechanisms available and thus can be described as hyper-empathic

 (Step 1). Under these conditions, the question of blocking and controlling empathy becomes a central issue to channel empathic attention and to avoid self-loss

 (Step 2). It is assumed that empathy can be sustained only when these mechanisms of controlling empathy are bypassed

(Step 3). In particular, the paper proposes a three- person scenario with one observing a conflict of two others. By taking the side of one of the combatants, the observer is led into empathizing, perhaps to justify her earlier side-taking.



I Feel Your Pain: The Science and Culture of Empathy
IFS course instructor photo
Professor Breithaupt, that is: Fritz, teaches literature, culture, and cognitive science in the Department of Germanic Studies,

  • How do people understand each other or think they do?

  • How is it that we can slip into the shoes of someone else, even though we may not know them at all?

  • And how, when reading fiction, do the emotions of fictional beings come to life as if they are just like us and yet in some ways remain different?

  • Is it perhaps this ability to slip into the shoes of someone else that makes man different even from most other apes?

  • What abilities does one need to understand someone else and who lacks them? Which roles do our story-telling abilities play?

Does Empathy Have A Dark Side?

Not necessarily, according to author Fritz Breithaupt. "Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy," he writes in his forthcoming book The Dark Sides of Empathy. Breithaupt, who directs the Experimental Humanities Lab at Indiana University, argues that empathy is a morally ambiguous capacity, one that can lead us astray if we don't understand its many sides.



Does Empathy Have A Dark Side?
April 12, 2019

"Since empathy is baked into our very being, Breithaupt argues that we must be aware of the good and bad it can enable. NPR's Jonathan Lambert spoke with him about empathy's biological and moral dimensions.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. How does science define empathy, and what light does that shed on on more philosophical conceptions of it?"


Book: Does Empathy Have A Dark Side?

Benefits Of Empathy Mentioned

  • Enrichment p226
    "...the reward for embracing empathy is the enrichment and intensification of our aesthetic perception of the world around us and the emotional experience within ourselves and others."

  • Widening Experience
    "we can still cherish how empathy widens the scope of our experience, dramatically and enables a rich and complex coexperiencing of our joint world."

  • Widening Experience p220
    "Empathy intensifies our experiences and widens the scope of our perceptions. We feel more than we could with-out it, and it enables us to participate more fully in the lives of others, even fictional characters. This form of engagement can be described in terms of aesthetic experience and the deepening of our emotions and it provides storing reasons to teach and cherish empathy."

  • Increased Understanding  p201
    "Empathy is, of course, a critical factor in healthy long-term relationships, too, making it easier for us to understand our family members or romantic partners and anticipate their emotional needs and reactions.  Love without empathy would be a sad thing for most people."

  • Increased Aesthetic Perception p223
    "More specifically, empathy increases our aesthetic perception in three interrelated ways:..."