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Play now 45 mins


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 07 May 2011

What is it that makes some people want to hurt or kill? In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, we investigate the triggers, in the brain and in society, that make crime and cruelty flourish.

One of Britain's leading psychiatrists, Simon Baron-Cohen, suggests that if we want a scientific understanding, we should stop talking about evil and consider how our brains are wired for empathy, or lack of it.

Federico Varese, who studies mafias, considers crime and the community and in particular what it is that makes organized crime networks flourish.

And best-selling Indian novelist Radhika Jha suggests that one way to build empathy is to create shared stories.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: as collective mafias switch off empathy in order to tell stories to commit acts of cruelty.


4 items
  • Simon Baron- Cohen

    Simon Baron- Cohen

    We probe the troubling question of what drives some people to inflict horrific cruelty on their fellow human beings. What can we learn from the human brain? Cambridge Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Simon Baron-Cohen, says the key is the absence or presence of empathy. He also explains why some people are Zero Negative on his Empathy Quotient scale while others are Zero Positive.

    Simon Baron-Cohen - Penguin Books
  • Federico Varese

    Federico Varese

    What social and economic conditions make crime and cruelty possible? Oxford Criminology professor Frederico Varese, an expert on organized crime groups worldwide, argues that you need very specific economic situations for mafias to spread and that globalization is not always good for mafias.

    Federico Varese - Princeton Press
  • Radhika Jha

    Radhika Jha

    Best selling Indian novelist Radhika Jha explains how easy it is to turn sombre fact into highly embellished story and considers why we need to turn momentous events and people into myths in order to cope with their impact.

    Photo by Paul Steinmetz.

    Radhika Jha - Beautiful Books

    Oxford Criminology Professor Federico Varese says that that there should be a cap on the number of laws in each country. He suggests that if you have too many laws you get more corruption: India and Italy have tens of thousands of laws but Germany or France only a fraction of that.

  • In Next Week’s Programme:

    We puncture a few myths about the impact of outsourced jobs and Chinese economy with Malaysian-born economist Wing Thye Woo, expert on US local government Mildred Warner and leading Jordanian businessman Fadi Ghandour.



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