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Shared Emotions, Group Membership, and Empathy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHARE (Shared Emotions, Group Membership, and Empathy)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

SHARE addressed three interrelated issue, revolving around the question of how empathic understanding of others’ mental and emotional lives relates and is modulated by emotional sharing and group membership. Specifically, it addressed three issues:
(WP 1) The Shared Emotions Issue: The first, foundational, sub-project analysed how empathy relates but ultimately differs from properly speaking emotional sharing and provided a phenomenological account of what the latter amounts to. In particular, SP 1 inquired what components or dimensions of emotions are shared in emotional sharing (e.g. bodily feeling or experiential components of emotions, cognitive components such as social appraisal patterns, objective, emotion regulative or expressive components) and argued for multi-dimensional account of affective sharing. In particular, SHARE suggested four criteria for emotional sharing: (i) the (mutual) awareness and the intentionality, (ii) the plurality and self/other-differentiation, (iii) the integration, and (iv) the affective intentionality requirement.
(WP 2) The Group-Membership and Empathy Issue: Based on the results of SP 1, this WP explored the ways in which shared emotions and membership in communities modulate cognitive and affective empathy, and, in particular, emotional recognition and regulation, Furthermore, it addressed the question whether there are certain in-/out-group biases at play in empathy. It has been shown that group membership indeed variously influences empathic processes. Specifically, the project showed how not only the familiar social-psychological mechanisms, but also passive ‘sedimentation’ and ‘habitualization’ of shared emotional patterns play an important and so far largely neglected role.
(WP 3) The Interactive and Collective Empathy Issue: The last subproject focused on the issue of what happens when individuals interact in empathizing, whether and how they can collectively perform or be the targets of empathic acts (e.g. as a group which is marginalized, strives for recognition or which is victim of ethnic cleansing) and finally what inter-group empathy entails. SP 3 argued that interactive, collective and inter-group empathy are not only possible but, moreover, entail, respectively, a number of facilitating mechanisms vis-à-vis ingroup homogenization, a sense of belonging, but also, conversely, negative biases regarding ingroup/outgroup demarcation.
WP 1, WP 2 and WP 3 have been pursued by following three main research strategies: (1) The project has systematically analyzed both theoretical and empirical sources; (2) it corrected methodological shortcomings, identified and supplemented thematic desiderata; (3) it proposed a new conceptual framework integrating available research data, which can be used both for new theoretical research and the design of new empirical paradigms.
ad 1) Regarding theoretical sources, both classical-phenomenological and contemporary analytic work in the philosophy of emotions (Szanto 2017e; Szanto 2018; Szanto & Krueger forthcoming; Szanto & Landweer forthcoming) and social cognition (Jardine & Szanto 2017) have been critically re-evaluated. Regarding empirical material, cognitive neuroscientific work on social cognition and, in particular, empathy biases, social-psychological work on ingroup/outgroup mechanisms (Szanto & Krueger (eds.) forthcoming) and sociological analyses of affective sharing have been discussed (Szanto 2017d; Szanto forthcoming). In terms of theoretical results, here, the project contributed to disambiguating central conceptual equivocations, esp. between the notions empathy, emotional sharing, affective entrainment, mimicry, emotional contagion and sympathy, as well as between vicarious sub-personal reactions and intentional sharing and between shared, collective and extended emotions (Krueger & Szanto 2016; Jardine & Szanto 2017; Szanto 2018; Léon, Szanto, Zahavi forthcoming).
ad 2) On the basis of these conceptual clarifications, the project helps circumvent specific methodological and systematic problems, e.g. associated with both the ‘phenomenal subject’-identity construal of shared emotions and purely cognitivist or normativist accounts within the philosophy of collective emotions, or with reductive social-psychological and sociological accounts (Szanto 2018). Moreover, it introduced some, so far largely neglected, issues and proposed novel ways to address them, e.g. regarding collaborative and collective forms of self-deception (Szanto 2017a), the possibility and role of collective imagination for constructing ingroup/outgroup stereotypes (Szanto 2017c), or the sociological and systematic basis for emotional self-alienation (Szanto 2017b).
ad 3) Relatedly, a central outcome of the project is a multi-dimensional account, which allows distinguishing various levels and dimensions of emotional sharing (extended, shared, collective, etc., and direct and habitualized forms, etc.) (Krueger & Szanto 2016; Szanto 2018; León, Szanto & Zahavi forthcoming). Furthermore, the novel analyses of distinctively collective forms of empathy and empathy-biases (e.g. social identification based, group-directed, and intergroup) (Jardine & Szanto 2017; Szanto & Krueger (eds.) forthcoming) as well as of affectively biased self-deception (Szanto 2017a) and self-alienation (Szanto 2017b) are expected to facilitate the integration of available conceptual and empirical data, and pave the way for new research paradigms.
The project provided a novel conceptual, phenomenologically grounded and empirically informed framework for distinguishing empathy and shared emotions, which goes beyond the state of the art in three respects: (1) first it allows for a more fine-grained distinction between empathic understanding and emotional sharing than previous accounts and, in particular, discusses potential disrupting or biasing factors of empathy and emotional sharing, with regard to collaborative agency, emotional co-regulation and group membership. (2) It provided a – compared to available accounts – more refined multi-dimensional model and the conceptual means for a taxonomy, that allows distinguishing between different dimensions and types of empathic encounters as well as of emotional sharing. (3) Finally, the proposed accounts are non-reductive, steering a middle way between simulationist and cognitivist accounts of empathy, as well as between collectivistic and reductive individualistic accounts of shared emotions.
Regarding wider societal implication, the project contributes (a) to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms for ingroup/outgroup biases in empathic encounters (e.g. due to racial biases) and eventually to the design of societal and educational settings to alleviate these biases, (b) to a better grasp of why and how emotions not only play a facilitating role for ingroup homogeneity or the strengthening of a sense of belonging but also may have disrupting and anti-social roles; (c) finally, the projects offers a robust conceptual framework for explicating the (essentially) political dimension and antagonistic role of (shared) emotions in political discourse (Szanto & Slaby forthcoming; Szanto in review), a task that seems ever-more pertinent in the face of an increasing tendency in populist politics to trigger antagonistic sentiments among citizens.
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