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The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty | [Simon Baron-Cohen]

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty

Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common---lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world. In The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Famed British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has spent the last 25 years publishing his research on theories of mind, consistently demonstrating that he is one of the most experimental and cutting-edge specialists in the field of cognition. The Science of Evil, published abroad as Zero Degrees of Empathy, brings together several strands of Baron-Cohen's work into a unified theory of human cruelty that describes empathy as a brain-based and therefore scientifically accessible phenomenon. East Sussex actor Jonathan Crowley does a superb job of conveying how groundbreaking and interesting Baron-Cohen's premise truly is. A frequent voice worker and recent winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, Crowley is no stranger to the invigorating possibilities of scientific non-fiction narration. The psychologist makes it easy on him, with clear writing that explains cognition in everyday terms and with a view toward the practical applications of his theory.

Essentially, there are three diagnoses that have a lack of empathy in common: borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and psychosis. Each of these mental states is missing either the ability to recognize the feelings or others, or the ability to respond to those feelings, or both. This is Baron-Cohen's fundamental argument about the cause of human cruelty. Cruelty is only possible given a lack of empathy, and he devotes a chapter to each of these diagnoses. He devotes additional chapters to autism, the subject around which the majority of Baron-Cohen's research has long orbited. Because autistics are highly systematizing thinkers, they generally develop strong moral rules and a sense of injustice that is not premised upon having empathy, which is a characteristic they lack.

Crowley's lively rendering of the case studies for each type of person having zero degrees of empathy is deeply engrossing. Listeners will be shocked to recognize bits and pieces of their own less than understanding moments embedded in the anecdotal evidence provided here. The book concludes with a hint of the larger implications for a complete study of empathy as a brain-based behavior. Crowley delivers Baron-Cohen's final plea with all the earnest optimism it deserves: if we could use science to isolate the biological sources of empathy, we could eliminate cruelty, and voila -- world peace. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common---lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world. In The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse. Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.

©2011 Simon Baron-Cohen (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Baron-Cohen's professorial background shines through in the book's tone and in step-by-step, engaging prose urging both academic and lay reader alike to journey with him in scientific inquiry." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Raven913 Austin, TX United States 02-27-13
    Raven913 Austin, TX United States 02-27-13 Member Since 2012

    lauren25

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    "Great premise, lacks excitement"
    Would you listen to The Science of Evil again? Why?

    No, I wouldn't listen to this book again. The material was dry and felt like sitting through a personality disorders seminar. It seemed there was little inflection to give the book life.


    Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

    Being a psychology major, the material was easy to follow. If I did not have my background, the book would not have been too technical. The concepts are pretty clearly explained with plenty of examples to further elaborate.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    It felt like there was no pacing to the story, and the narration was lackluster. I would say that the narration did match the pace of the story.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Journey through the minds of disordered personalities. The darkness awaits.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dorthea Brooks Boston, MA 01-30-12
    Dorthea Brooks Boston, MA 01-30-12 Member Since 2005

    rdw959

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    "New take on a fascinating subject (i.e. evil)"
    Any additional comments?

    Novel take on empathy, particularly for those of us who have studied psychology and are familiar with the disorders he's referring to. I had never thought of borderlines as lacking in empathy before -- I work with quite a few of them -- and it's a point of view worth considering. Not so sure that it adequately covers the subject of evil, though -- or perhaps it's just that it takes the punch out. If you want to get back on steady footing, watch Ted Bundy's swan song interview where he blames his crimes on the proliferation of pornography, saying he was just an

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tina ALLSTON, MA, United States 07-28-12
    Tina ALLSTON, MA, United States 07-28-12 Member Since 2010
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    "detailed, intelligently presented and interesting"

    if you are interested in the why people do what they do aspect of life, this is an interesting take on the definition of evil and what may make them fall into this category. i don't agree that evil is equated with a lake of empathy, but Baron-Cohen has a compelling argument and research to back it up. He has done a good job of guiding you through what makes people lack empathy and what the impacts of it are in their lives/actions.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 01-22-14
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 01-22-14 Member Since 2009

    Acteon

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    "Well worth it"
    Would you listen to The Science of Evil again? Why?

    Probably. To retain some of the details.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Made me think, which is no doubt more important.


    Any additional comments?

    The subject is an extremely important one that touches us all.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pearl Glacier 03-09-13 Member Since 2011

    Epic

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    "The science of empathy..."

    Although the title of this book is the science of evil, I believe it speaks more to the science of empathy. Empathy is conveyed as a bell shaped phenomena that we experience everyone around us, and he goes into details on those in the lowest levels of empathy. Some critical thoughts I had where that I have found in clinical experience people with Borderline Personality Disorder do not have zero empathy as he states, but perhaps a misguided empathy. I have found that many people with BPD do go on to become therapists or psychiatrist by the very nature that they are capable of feeling what others experience more vividly then normal people. However this is perhaps something that only occurs through good therapy or religious experience as those with BPD heal. I do however believe that those with BPD who are in an episode, often do to perceived abandonment, of stripping of the social veneer that holds them together, do in fact have zero empathy for a short time. The other thing I would have appreciated more was how the author thinks such evil as defined by lack of empathy can be overcome. Overall I found the book very helpful in a way of understanding empathy and it has sparked my interest in reading more on the topic. I do highly recommend this listening to this book!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eva Rose 11-25-12
    Eva Rose 11-25-12
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    "Thought Provoking"
    Any additional comments?

    Simon Baron Cohen is a specialist in Autism, and he referred to Autism a bit in the book and I'd be really interested to read more of his work in this field. His book was quite thought provoking. In my personal interpretation of the book, it seems Mr. Cohen believes evil is not a spiritual matter at all, but rather a chemical/medical one. "Evil" doesn't really exist, it's just that some people have lower levels of empathy.
    He also seems to advocate for criminals who commit crimes due to their mental illnesses to have less severe punishments, since they can't help being sociopaths/psychopaths, or as Mr. Cohen would say, low on empathy.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Guilherme 09-24-12
    Guilherme 09-24-12 Member Since 2011

    You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. —Wayne Gretzky

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    "Lacks useful advice"

    I was hoping this book to be about spotting sociopaths, or at least showing how they think, not quite.

    The author is certainly a specialist on the subject, but his objective with this book is to make the general public aware of the need of a better way to classify sociopaths on the DSM, with empathy as reference. And that's about it.

    I understand that some people might find this kind of subject interesting but I think that if I can't use what I read in a practical way it's not.

    1 of 4 people found this review helpful
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