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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Study Shows Vegans More Empathetic than Meat Eaters; Young Adults Today have Less Empathy; The BP Oil Disaster; Next Disaster Nuke Power? (posted 06/09/10)

- Empathy: College Students Don't Have as Much as They Used To, Study Finds Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

- BP Well May Be Spewing 100,000 Barrels a Day, Scientist Says BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well may be spewing what the company once-called its worst case scenario — 100,000 barrels a day, a member of the government panel told McClatchy Monday. ... Leifer said that based on satellite data he's examined, the rate of flow from the well has been increasing over time, especially since BP's "top kill" effort failed last month to stanch the flow.

- Apocalypse in the Gulf Now (Oil) & Next (Nukes) As BP's ghastly gusher assaults the Gulf of Mexico and so much more, a tornado has forced shut the Fermi2 atomic reactor at the site of a 1966 melt-down that nearly irradiated the entire Great Lakes region.... If the White House has a reliable plan for deploying and funding a credible response to a disaster at a reactor that's superior to the one we've seen at the Deepwater Horizon, we'd sure like to see it.... Like Deepwater Horizon and Fermi, these new nukes could ignite disasters beyond our technological control--and our worst nightmares..... Like BP, their builders would enjoy financial liability limits dwarfed by damage they could do.

- Rig Survivors: BP Ordered Shortcut on Day of Blast  The BP official wanted workers to replace heavy mud, used to keep the well's pressure down, with lighter seawater to help speed a process that was costing an estimated $750,000 a day and was already running five weeks late, rig survivors told CNN.
BP won the argument, said Doug Brown, the rig's chief mechanic. "He basically said, 'Well, this is how it's gonna be.'

- Exxon Valdez Lawyer: Louisianans, 'To Use A Legal Term,' Are 'Just F--ked' The irony, as O'Neill tells it, is that the law Congress passed in the wake of that spill -- the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 -- may end up hindering the type of relief that Gulf residents can expect currently. Under that legislation, a $75 million cap was placed on economic damages that an oil company can pay as a penalty for a spill...

- Can You Look Her in the iPad? Even the most unenlightened consumers have a vague ethical awareness when it comes to clothes and food. You don't have to be Naomi Klein to realize that somewhere along a production line that can manufacture supermarket jeans for £2, someone is getting at best short-changed, and at worst exploited. Likewise, thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, most consumers realise that a £1.99 chicken probably lived in a cramped, filthy cage with hundreds of other miserable birds and excrement for company.
Cheap usually comes with human and environmental costs.

Does Not Eating Animals Make You More Empathetic Toward People?
Published June 2 2010 on

While no one likes to think of themselves as some sort of moral snob, let's be honest: Compared to meat-eaters, many ethical vegetarians and vegans do see themselves as having a more compassionate outlook. Where some may see a juicy steak, we see a dead cow. While some think of how good the meat will taste, we contemplate the way the animal suffered on its path to the dinner plate. 

Why the difference in perception? It turns out it vegetarians and vegans might just be wired differently than other people. According to Daniel R. Rowes of Psychology Today, a recent Italian study shows that empathy is what really separates vegetarians and omnivores. The study was "based on the observation that vegetarians and vegans tend to base their decision to avoid animal products on ethical grounds." This is an accurate observation, as Vegetarian Times reported in 2008 that 54 percent of American vegetarians cited animal welfare as the main reason they gave up meat. The Italian researchers wanted to determine if the empathy vegetarians and vegans extend towards animals applied to other humans as well.
To test this, Rowes writes, subjects (20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans) were placed "into a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine" while researchers looked "at the 'activation' of different brain areas as subjects view a randomized series of pictures." As explained in the study's abstract, some of the pictures were of natural landscapes, while others showed scenes of torture, mutilation, death, and so on. These so-called negative affective pictures involved both animals and humans. Researchers monitored the different neurological reactions to the pictures.

What did the study find? According to Rowes:
The first main finding of this study is that, compared to omnivores, vegans and vegetarians show higher activation of empathy related brain areas (e.g. Anterior Cingular Cortex and left Inferior Frontal Gyrus) when observing scenes of suffering; whether it be animal or human suffering.
It's important to highlight that this study shows vegetarians and vegans to be more empathic to both animals and humans. After all, how many of us in the animal welfare community have been accused of "caring more about animals than people?" 

Other studies have come to similar conclusions. According to the journal Anthrozoos, "Past research found that positive attitudes toward animals are positively correlated with human-directed empathy."

The link between empathy for animals and empathy for humans should come as no surprise. As psychologist Mary Lou Randour wrote in her book Animal Grace, "animals play an important role in teaching children empathy." She also notes that there is a "cultural pressure to abandon our fascination with animals" as we get older and mature. Essentially, learning to be less empathic towards animals is a step towards maturity in our society.
Fortunately, vegetarians and vegans don't seem to have learned that lesson.

The Italian study on vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and empathy comes at an interesting time. Scientific American recently reported on a separate study of college students showing that "today’s young people are 40 percent less empathetic than college kids from 30 years ago." The sharpest drop in empathy occurred in the last nine years. According to the study, today’s students are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

A whole generation with diminished empathy is a scary thought. I guess it will be up to the country's young vegetarians and vegans to balance out the compassion scales.
They've got quite a tough task ahead of them.