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Fear is a common and important human emotion that we’ve all experienced at some time. But have you ever paid attention to how you react to fear in others? Your response may say a lot about your moral compass.
Neuroscientist Abigail Marsh studied two groups of people, psychopaths and altruists, and how they interpret fear and other emotions in others. The psychopaths have trouble identifying fear in others, while the altruists respond immediately with empathy. The result of Marsh’s research is her book The Fear Factor: How one emotion connects altruists, psychopaths & everyone in between. On this episode of unSILOed, Abigail and Greg talk about her research and how these findings apply to all of our lives and interactions with people.
Abigail Marsh is a professor of psychology at Georgetown University. She runs the Laboratory on Social & Affective Neuroscience which conducts research on human behavior and interaction.
Fearlessness is a core part of a psychopathic personality
39:07: People with psychopathy are really bad at recognizing when other people are afraid. And the reason we think that is because they don't feel fear strongly themselves. Fearlessness is a core part of the psychopathic personality. And so the idea is if you don't really know what fear feels like, and some people with psychopathy report not ever feeling fear, you don't have the empathic reaction to it in the brain that, I think, is what allows you to then identify the emotion that you're witnessing in somebody else.
30:59: Being good at fear and recognizing when other people are afraid is a really strong individual difference predictor of altruism.
The violence inhibition mechanism
45:47: The idea is that, in typical people, the amygdala is a key part of the brain that, during development, is sort of neurobiologically prepared to respond to other people's distress and to learn from other people's distress, such that when you learn that a particular behavior results in another person looking highly distressed, for example, afraid, you very quickly learn not to do that thing again.
- Daniel Wegner
- The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So Called Psychopathic Personality
- Milgram study
- Daniel Batson
- Faculty Profile at Georgetown University
- Contributor’s Profile on Psychology Today
- Abigail Marsh Website
- Abigail Marsh on LinkedIn
- Abigail Marsh on Twitter
- Abigail Marsh on TEDTalk