• World’s Top Empathy Researcher Accused Of Bullying Colleagues

Well this is a bummer.

I was thinking of writing a post about empathy, because I’ve found that a lot of Christians – who I think should excel more so than any other group at showing empathy – are not empathetic.

You can be going through something very painful in life, and the average Christian, rather than just commiserating with you, will give you a list of “stuff to do,” or will shame you or will give you platitudes.

This story is sad.

It also goes to show that sometimes women are terrible to other women.

Because I rail a lot about male on female sexism, a lot of cranks have accused me of “hating men,” but I’ve had to remind these people that I’ve blogged about (and discussed on other blogs) how I was

  • bullied by one woman boss on a full time professional position I held,
  • I’ve been verbally abused by an older sister for many years, and, of course,
  • I’ve gotten into it with various other women on these blogs, from that “Christiane” person to “Velour” to Lea to Rachel Nichols to Lydia.

I left a post at TWW a week or two ago, a comment in reply to someone else who was saying if more women were in charge (of churches, or in researching abuse allegations, I think the poster was saying), that justice would be served, or there would not be so much abuse:

“That idea only works if you have the “right” women in charge. I’ve been pushed around, bullied, and abused by women, too, not just by men.”

It is very sad and ironic that a person (a woman in this case) who is known as an expert on empathy shows none to her co-workers or subordinates.

This woman sounds similar to the she-demon I had to endure at one job I had.

World’s top empathy researcher accused of bullying colleagues: 75% of her researchers have QUIT over claims she screams and intimidates

‘People Were Terrified’: Empathy Expert Is Accused of Bullying

A celebrated neuroscientist known for her work on human empathy is now being called a workplace bully who can reduce colleagues to tears, the Cut reports. Tania Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, has taken a sabbatical to “calm the situation down,” her employer says.

Big bad bosses like Elon Musk keep proving “the power paradox”

World’s Top Empathy Researcher Accused Of Bullying Colleagues

She’s the world’s top empathy researcher. But colleagues say she bullied and intimidated them

By Kai Kupferschmidt

Aug. 8, 2018 , 4:10 PM

Tania Singer, a celebrated neuroscientist and director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, is known as one of the world’s foremost experts on empathy.

In her research, she has sought to demonstrate that meditation can make people more kind and caring. The title of a profile of Singer written by this reporter in 2013 summed up her public image: Concentrating on Kindness.

But inside her lab, it was a very different story, eight former and current colleagues say in interviews with Science.

The researchers, all but one of whom insisted on remaining anonymous because they feared for their careers, describe a group gripped by fear of their boss. “Whenever anyone had a meeting with her there was at least an even chance they would come out in tears,” one colleague says.

Singer, one of the most high-profile female researchers in the Max Planck Society (MPG), sometimes made harsh comments to women who became pregnant, multiple lab members told Science.

“People were terrified.They were really, really afraid of telling her about their pregnancies,” one former colleague says. “For her, having a baby was basically you being irresponsible and letting down the team,” says another, who became a mother while working in Singer’s department.

Singer, who declined to answer questions for this story, is on a 1-year sabbatical, but her colleagues say they are speaking out now because MPG plans to eventually allow her to return to her lab.

Singer has acknowledged making mistakes in the past.

…Singer, the daughter of celebrated neuroscientist Wolf Singer, helped found a new field called social neuroscience; she rose to prominence with her work on empathy, including a landmark study published in Science in 2004 that showed watching a loved one experience pain activates the same brain areas as feeling physical pain directly.

…But colleagues say working with Singer was always difficult.

She wanted to be in control of even the most minute research details but was often not available to discuss them.

In-person meetings could quickly turn into a nightmare, one colleague says: “She gets extremely emotional and when that turns dark it is terrifying.”

 Another co-worker describes what happened after he told Singer some people in her group were unhappy: “She was very hurt by this and started crying and screaming,” he says. “It escalated to the extent that she left the room and went door to door in the institute in our department, crying, yelling to the people in the room ‘Are you happy here?’ When she came back, she said: ‘I just asked and everyone said they’re happy so it’s obviously you that’s the problem.’” (A colleague who says he was present corroborates the story.)

Almost every current or former lab member brought up Singer’s treatment of pregnant women; the issue was also on a list of grievances, shared with Science, that lab members say they drew up after a meeting with the scientific advisory board in February 2017 to record what was said. “Pregnancy and parental leave are received badly and denied/turned into accusations,” the notes say.

Bethany Kok, a former lab member who agreed to speak on the record because she is no longer working in neuroscience, says Singer reacted kindly when she first told her she was pregnant with twins.

But the next day, Kok says, “She started screaming at me how she wasn’t running a charity, how I was a slacker and that I was going to work twice as hard for the time I would be gone.”

A few weeks later, Kok says, she miscarried one of the twins and missed a lab meeting for an urgent medical appointment. “I got an email from Tania telling me that she wasn’t paying me to go to the doctor, that clearly I wasn’t using good judgment, and I was no longer allowed to go to the doctor during work hours.” (Kok says she no longer has access to the email.)

Singer’s lawyer says Singer never discriminated against pregnant women or any other group, and that events described by others “either did not happen or they happened very differently than described.”

Scientific discussions could also get overheated, lab members say. “It was very difficult to tell her if the data did not support her hypothesis,” says one researcher who worked with Singer.

…Contemporaneous notes from the researchers who took part in the 2017 meeting with the scientific advisory board—held after years of informal discussions and talks with an ombudsman that had led nowhere—include numerous other complaints, including “emotional abuse, threats, devaluation of work, and personal abilities.”

“Working with Tania is becoming increasingly difficult,” the lab members wrote after the meeting. “We represent the entire department. We would like some change but are unsure of how to approach the issue due to fear of retaliation.”

…Six meetings with a mediator in the first half of 2017 did little to improve the situation, several people who attended the sessions say.


More On This Blog:

The Insidious Effects of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace by C. Romm

Five Signs of An Abusive Relationship Most People Will Dismiss by Harriet Marsden

When Being Nice Backfires by N. Lipkin

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2 thoughts on “• World’s Top Empathy Researcher Accused Of Bullying Colleagues

    • Yes, it’s sure been my experience that a lot of Christians – not all – are lacking in empathy.

      Their own Bible tells them to “weep with those who weep” and the book of Job in the Old Testament is one big lesson on how to be empathetic, but even the most die-hard, pro- sola scriptura Christians don’t seem to read those parts of their Bibles!

      Many Christians are uncomfortable with anyone (especially another self- professing Christian) who openly cries in front of them and/or admits to being in some kind of emotional pain.

      Many of the Christians I’ve gone to in times of trouble love shaming, giving a list of stuff to do, victim blaming, issuing platitudes, or giving theology lessons – when all I need or want is for someone to just be there for me.
      Just listen, give some encouragement, put their arm around my shoulders.

      There are a small number of Christians who are empathetic and good at showing empathy (my late mother is one such example, she was a devout Christian and very caring), but more often than not, it seems to me about 98% of Christians suck Lemons at this.

      To add insult to injury:
      I’ve been very empathetic to certain people in my life, such as a sister of mine, and they sure do lap it up, but they don’t return the favor when I’m the one going through a difficult time.

      When people come to me ranting or crying about their problems in life, I offer non-judgmental support – but –

      If I ever go to these same people (some are Christians) to receive that same kind of care, they instead shame me, criticize me, tell me to stop being a whiny cry-baby and just “suck it up buttercup.”

      They absolutely do not reflect back to me the same compassion and support I’ve given them.

      Sometimes, Non-Christians can be bad with the empathy thing, too.

      I’ve occasionally run across Non-Christians who also have some of these same reactions to someone else’s suffering, but-

      Since Christians are supposed to be (according to the Bible) a bit more caring and understanding of people’s pain than Non-Christians, I’ve tended to hold higher expectations for Christians on this than I do most Non-Christians.

      One point Non- Christians get from me on this (at least the ones who are compassionate that you go to seeking emotional support):
      They don’t try to find theological reasons to explain your pain to you.

      So many Christians, when you say to them, “I’m hurting because of X in my life,” they will try to give you a theology lesson and figure out why God allowed X to happen to you. Which is not helpful.

      I need your caring and concern, not your biblical interpretation.

      Some Christians go one step farther to tell you, ‘the reason God allowed X to happen to you’ is that you cheesed off God in some form: you didn’t pray hard enough, you sinned, etc.

      I definitely think a lot of Christians could do better on the empathy front.

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