Going beyond the headlines: Narratives mitigate intergroup empathy bias


“Three Afghani civilians were killed in a drone strike in Khandahar.” People increasingly get their news from online sources, making it easy to see the world through the prism of headlines, instead of the longer story. What are the consequences of reading just a single sentence encapsulation of world events? We tested the effects of reading “headlines” versus longer narratives, about events happening to in-group versus out-group members, for people assigned to arbitrary competitive groups (Eagles or Rattlers). In four studies, reading just “headlines” exacerbated intergroup differences in empathy: feeling more empathy for in-group members, and more counter-empathic emotions (e.g. Schadenfreude) for outgroup members. Headlines encourage attending to, and therefore remembering, what group a person is from. However, the intergroup empathy bias can be mitigated by providing a short narrative about each individual, which draws attention away from group membership and towards the individual’s experience.

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