This video, by UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, explains the science behind empathy, countering commonly held and false beliefs. Social Darwinism, for one, holds that the naturally selfish or ruthless will be more likely to procreate because they would survive better. Keltner points out that Darwin had actually proposed the opposite idea: communities with greater cooperation, empathy and compassion were far more likely to survive as a group (there may not be a particular strategy for survival; compassion alone would leave nothing for the individual).
Keltner states that this theory has been proven by scientific studies, pointing out that at least 40% of our thoughts are focused on other people. Wealth affects our ability to feel compassion; those with less, ironically, give more and also feel greater empathy when they see pictures of other people suffering. The wealthy seem to be lacking in this particular area.
Keltner calls this the ’empathy deficit’, in that the pursuit of money and the stratification of society is overtaking the instinctive drive to be selfless. Indeed, the result is a colder society with more unhappiness everywhere, particularly and ironically among the wealthy. “We have to redefine human self-interest,” Keltner says. “The brain really cares about other people.”