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The Risks and Rewards of Empathy

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Sometimes being a good scientist requires putting aside your emotions. But what happens when objectivity isn't enough to make sense of a seemingly senseless act of violence? Lulu Miller introduces us to Jeff Lockwood, a professor at the University of Wyoming, who spent a part of his career studying a particularly ferocious set of insects: Gryllacrididae. Or, as Jeff describes them, "crickets on steroids." They have crushingly strong, serrated jaws, and launch all-out attacks on anyone who gets in their way -- whether it's another cricket, or the guy trying to take them out of their cages. Jeff started wondering what their fierceness could tell him about the nature of violence... and that's when the alarm bells went off. Jeff would picture his mentor, Dr. LaFage, lecturing him back in college -- warning him not to slip into a muddled, empathic mood, not to let his emotions sideswipe his objectivity. But then one night, something happened that gave Dr. LaFage's advice a terrible new kind of significance. Tamra Carboni tells us this part of the story, and challenges Jeff's belief that there's a way to understand it.


Produced by:

Lulu Miller

Comments [3]

Honor from Denver

As someone with dermatillomania and dermatophagia, I actually feel quite a bit of kinship with the cricket who consumes his own viscera. Consumption is instinctive and compulsive. I have a distinct sense of self (probably unlike the crickets) and I know it's my own body, but that only increases the impulse. I know other humans don't share this, but it is reassuring to know that my desires are not as aberrant among other creatures.

Aug. 12 2015 06:25 PM
Diana Wheeler

This is a very interesting, thought provoking piece. How do you mentally process something that is too horrible to fit into any mental framework you have? Do you completely ignore intuition and the common bonds between humans and others - both human and animals - in trying to understand? Nice work.

Sep. 03 2013 10:45 AM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Brooklyn

Ms. Miller produces a segment where Professor Lockwood states that he wants crickets to be crickets, then imprisons and murders them. Neither NPR or Radio Lab's science reporting has ever shown the least bit of empathy for nonhuman animals, this segment regretfully is no different.

Aug. 31 2013 03:50 PM

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