Study: Empathy actually doesn't cross party lines

The finding is disheartening because it suggests that our prejudices affect the processing of our emotions on a deep and completely unconscious level. The authors write:

These consequences suggest a surprising limitation in our capacity to empathize with people we disagree with or differ from… Firsthand painful experiences apparently do not translate into appreciating similar pain felt by dissimilar others.
This sad conclusion may help explain, at least in part, why politicians continue to talk past each other and fail to cooperate, even where there are obvious areas of agreement. (The similarities between Mitt Romney’s conservative-think-tank designed health plan and Obama’s health-care plan come to mind.)

There are exercises aimed at increasing empathy: some research suggests, for example, that simply spending time together in neutral or pleasant settings can help increase understanding between groups. Indeed, prior Congresses have actually crossed party lines to socialize. But while it’s doubtful that a non-partisan retreat or more social contact would change politicians’ attitudes today, for the sake of our children, let’s hope they find a way to work together.