A performative psychological experiment
This project was a participatory performance combined with a real time psychological research by artist Einat Amir and psychologist Yossi Hasson, as part of their collaboration with the Emotion in Conflict lab.
The project's theme was Intergroup empathy: Sharing and understanding the emotions of people who are outside of our social group. Even though intergroup empathy has been shown to promote prosocial behavior across social borders, people often fail to feel it for outgroup members.
In the current project we wanted to examine whether part of the reason people feel less empathy for outgroup members is because they believe that we have a limited amount of empathy (zero-sum), and that empathy for the outgroup comes at the expense of empathy for the ingroup. The performance, together with preliminary studies, put this zero-sum mindset to the test.
In a series of three studies conducted before the performance, we found that empathy to the ingroup was unaffected by prior empathy to the outgroup. That is, empathy levels to the ingroup (see black bars in the figure below) remained the same, regardless of whether ingroup suffering was shown first or was preceded by outgroup suffering. This means that the zero-mindset people hold is false.
In this project we invited people of German nationality and examined their empathy towards Syrian refugees. The audience participants were introduced with two COVID related testimonies; one of a Syrian refugee in Germany, and one of a German born citizen. Half of the participants were presented with the testimony of the German citizen first and the refugee’s testimony second, while the other half were be presented with these testimonies in the reversed order. After each testimony, they were asked about their empathy level. Our hypothesis, based on previous experiments, was that empathy towards the outgroup (refugees) does not detract from empathy towards the ingroup (Germans). In contrast, empathy for the in-group detracts from empathy toward the out-group, and therefore participants that will be presented with the refugee’s testimony first, will express more empathy towards the outgroup.
The results of this performance-experiment were similar to our prior findings in the sense that empathy toward ingroup members (Germans) was not influenced by feeling empathy toward outgroup members (Syrian refugees). Surprisingly, and unlike previous studies, we found that participates felt more empathy toward outgroup members compared to the ingroup members.
We are now at the phase of analyzing the results in depth in order to understand the similarities and discrepancies between the results found in all studies. The findings of these studies will contribute to the understanding of the interrelation between ingroup empathy and outgroup empathy, and could be used to promote empathy in our everyday life.
For those who took part in the project, we thank you very much and hope you had a meaningful experience!
If you would like to tell us about your experience, or ask more questions, please write to:
Einat & Yossi
Art and Scientific research: Einat Amir, Yossi Hasson // Performers: Krystel Mcneil, Nevada Montgomery, Eliza Myrie, Risha Tenae // Visuals: Lali Fruheling // Text contributions and performative advice: Risha Tenae // Academic supervision: Eran Halperin, Mikko Sams, Anniina Suominen / Research conducted in Aalto University Finland and The Hebrew University Israel // Additional Research: Mikke Tavast, Mathias Piispanen // Hosts: Janika Heun, Lee Cockshott, Sophie Pulkus // Costumes and production assistance: Vidushi Lohia
Supported by: Körber-Stiftung, Kampnagel Hamburg, Artport Tel Aviv, Hyde Park Art Center