The science of walking in others people’s shoes
Can cosmopolitanism be increased and is empathy the answer?
BehaviourWorks Australia’s own Dr Nick Faulkner has had a paper published in one of the world’s leading political science journals, Political Psychology.
The paper reports the findings of a randomised experiment that tested the effect of perspective-taking (i.e. imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes) on willingness to help people in distant nations.
Meaning ‘citizen of the world’, to be cosmopolitan is to believe we’re all human and we should all have equal standing, no matter where in the world we live. Not to be confused with metropolitan, cosmopolitanism holds the promise of addressing current problems in global politics, including problems of global injustice, international development and human rights.
This work is particularly important in relation to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which BWA is contributing to through the Monash Sustainable Development Institute.
At a time of increased nationalism, thinking globally means empathising with those outside our group and beyond our borders. But how?
We know that people generally feel more empathy for social groups they identify with than those they don’t. For this reason, philosophers have suggested that empathy may not be an effective tool to increase cosmopolitan behaviour.
However, this study shows that interventions that lift our emotional imagination beyond our borders (increasing empathy) could be an important technique in fostering cosmopolitan behaviours. Directly asking people to imagine how a specific individual in a distant nation felt about the challenges they faced increased willingness to help people in distant nations who are faced with similar challenges.
And what behaviours do citizens of the world exhibit? Increased donations to overseas charities. Efforts to end child labour. Support for opening borders, rather than building walls. Reducing carbon emissions in one part of the globe to help another part.
These are the big problems we face, and increasingly need solutions for.
Nick’s paper is here