Empathy with others’ successes and misfortunes is a critical component of group living that promotes social cohesion. Unfortunately, empathy is a malleable phenomenon in that its elicitation is not automatic, but modulated by multiple interlocking factors. This chapter explores the specific phenomenon of intergroup empathy bias—the difference in empathy for members of social ingroups versus outgroups—which poses profound challenges for our modern human world characterized by a multitude of groups, ethnicities, and cultures. The chapter frames the discussion by contextualizing empathy as consisting of three interacting component processes, namely experience sharing, perspective taking, and empathic concern. It then goes on to examine research describing the effects of intergroup bias on each of these component processes. Next, it explores the factors, both at the level of the group and at the level of the individual, which may contribute to empathic breakdown in intergroup contexts. Finally, it considers strategies that may have potential in mitigating intergroup empathy bias. Here, we draw on our own experiences in the South African context, which is characterized by pervasive racial inequality and legacies of apartheid violence, to suggest that intergroup empathy is best stimulated in a context of reciprocal mutual engagement with the other.
Part of the book: Empathy