Vittorio Gallese, discoverer of the mirror neurons, says in an interview in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, that in virtual, indirect communication (as opposed to personal, face-to-face communication) there is less empathy because the mirror neurons don't get triggered as easily if we cannot witness the emotions of our conversational partners.
What worries me more than violent computer games is the we communicate more and more fequently over telephone and computer. Communities where people come together physically are becoming increasingly rare. But we know from our experiments that for empathy it is not the same wether we see a person on a monitor or eye to eye. If you communicate with your conversational partner only over email or chat, your image of him completely disappears.
If you do not face a person directly, but only listen to them on the phone or read what they write on the internet, you can no longer feel what they feel. All you can do is attempt to cognitively understand how they feel, similar to an autist. But this is much more complicated and error prone. That is why we prefer the physical company of other people, because they understand us without long explanations – simply by looking at us.
Simon Baron-Cohen, in Zero Degrees of Empathy, argues on the basis of his research that empathy erosion lies at the heart of cruelty.
Disembodied communication hinders empathy, and thus facilitates cruelty.