BOOK REVIEW: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen | Science News

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BOOK REVIEW: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen

Review by Erika Engelhaupt

By
10:25am, July 15, 2011

IBOOK REVIEW: The depths of human cruelty are often summed up in one stark term: evil. But definitions of evil are frustratingly circular, since evil is as evil does. “For a scientist this is, of course, wholly inadequate,” writes Baron-Cohen, a developmental psychologist specializing in autism. He suggests that “evil” is more properly defined as a complete lack of empathy, the ability to imagine and respond emotionally to another person’s thoughts. Empathy, he argues, is distributed througout the population as a bell curve, with those at the low end of the curve populating psychiatric categories such as psycho­pathy, narcissism and borderline personality disorder.

The book argues that the roots of the empathy bell curve lie in the brain and are shaped both by gen

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