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Culture of Empathy Builder: Jamil Zaki


Jamil Zaki


Jamil received his BA from Boston University, his Ph.D. from Columbia University, and postdoctoral training at Harvard University. Now that he’s in the Bay Area, his hobbies include compulsive hiking, eating avocados, and trying to remember how to drive again.




The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World Hardcover
by Jamil Zaki

Empathy is in short supply. Isolation and tribalism are rampant. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even thirty years ago. In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States is suffering from an “empathy deficit.” Since then, things only seem to have gotten worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In this groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki argues that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that we can all strengthen through effort.

Drawing on both classic and cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, Zaki shows how we can harness this new mindset to overcome toxic cultural divisions. He also tells the stories of people who are living these principles—fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. We meet a former neo-Nazi who is now helping extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout.



SXSW Live: 9:30am–10:30am | Featured Session: Jamil Zaki

  • Starts at 5 min mark. - ends at 1hr 5min

  • Sapiens cared for each other. worked together.

  • why worked well together. Empathy

  • psychologically we integrate

  • feeling of the tightrope

  • Adam Smith - fellow feeling - now called empathy.

  • Empathy an umbrella term

  • Benefits of Empathy

    • reduced depression - loneliness

    • Improved adolescent adjustment

    • professional success

    • patents more satisfied

    • employees do better

    • happier marriages

    • generosity for  community

    • more open-mindedness

    • interest in environment

  • Empathy can be hard

    • hard in modern life

    • living in cities - don't know neighbors

    • alone in a crowd.

    • relationships are transactional

  • Compassion collapse

    • Hard to care about large groups.

  • Anonymous, Tribalism and Disconnected

  • Empathy Test - Empathy going down in society

  • Does it have to be this way? empathy down.

    • There is the idea that empathy is fixed.

    • Empathy is learnable - is a skill

  • Personal family story, divorce and empathy

  • Strategies to increase empathy

    • Conformity - can work for good.

    • create an Empathic norm

    •  intervention - school test

    • Police Training. Washington 

    • can create empathic culture

    • empathize with one person

    • life after hate

  • Believing you can increase empathy - increases empathy

  • Q and A

    1. empathy goes up and down - feelings come and go

    2. astronaut empathy

    3. political polarization

      • being aware of manipulating

      • be aware and louder about empathy

    4. crippling empathy  - developing communication skills

    5. empathy paralysis in large societies

    6. unempathic manager

    7. empathy in the body and chemicals - and VR

    8. empathize with peoples negative qualities

    9. how to empathize with people who are different

      • contact theory - have connection with the other side

    10. role of touch and empathy

    11. empathize with others and losing sense of self

    12. empathy for non humans


The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World
April 12, 2019
"Jamil Zaki's new book shows us how to "bring light to a world that seemingly has darkened."
By James R. Doty, M.D., Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine"



How to Use Empathy to Better Your Life - Jamil Zaki

How do we navigate our differences at work, at home, in politics and in society? In this enlightening, lightly humorous, and research-based talk, Dr. Jamil Zaki delivers an astonishing overview of empathy: how it really works, why it truly matters (especially to work places), why it’s on the decline, and how to build it back up through deliberate practice.

For anyone who works in HR, who leads teams, or is part of one, Zaki will redefine how you understand, empathize, and work with others—an issue companies have been debating forever. Zooming out, Zaki’s insights will help you revitalize your connection to your neighborhood, your community, the world at large. Empathic people are happier, more creative and productive, in all sorts of ways.






Experts in Emotion -- Jamil Zaki on Empathy


0:00 Chapter 1. Introduction to Dr. Jamil Zaki
1:12 Chapter 2. What got you interested in studying emotion?
2:27 Chapter 3. What are the central discoveries of your work?
16:37 Chapter 4. What do you see in store for the future of emotion?
18:03 Chapter 5. What is your advice to viewers?

  • About Jamil Zaki

  • On Empathy and emotion

  • How did it start?

    • Grandmother in Peru - a collectivist society

  • Definition of empathy

    • complex - multiple definitions

    • put multiple definitions together - 3 parts

      • 1. emotional response

      • 2. cognitive understanding - TOM

      • 3. motivational piece - understanding you do I have a motivation to do something?

    • these are different distinct parts

      • emotional contagion

      • psychopaths can understand others but don't feel them or help them.

        • may manipulate or harm others

  • 5:00 How different for sympathy and pity?

    • pity - don't' enter into the emotion of the other

  • What are most interesting science discoveries?

    • the pieces - components of empathy are separate

    • Mirror neurons -

    • TOM - figuring out what people are feeling

  • understanding the context - full empathic response

  • 9:30 Understanding the context

  • is it uniquely human?

    • degrees of empathy in animals

    • mice

    • chimps

  • How does this fit into society?

    • Pinker - society is less violent - maybe has to do with expanding empathy

  • Is empathy a fixed quality? interventions

    • it can be changed - with perspective taking interventions

    • dissolve boundaries between people and groups.

    • compassion mediation helps

    • online interventions would be good

  • 16:37 Chapter 4. What do you see in store for the future of emotion?

    • filed going in 2 directions

      • 1. Fine grain assessment of empathy - math models

      • 2. complex and naturalistic tests - how it unfolds in real life situation

  • 18:03 Chapter 5. What is your advice to viewers?

    • what are the next steps - the undiscovered teritory.




How to Avoid Empathy Burnout – Issue 35: Boundaries
by Jamil Zaki
"At least in this case, sustainable and deep empathic concern for others began with that ancient mandate: Love thyself. And self-love is often the most difficult kind. But helpers, and the rest of us, have a flexible emotional life and the power to shape our feelings to better suit our needs. This opportunity is especially important for people who work in empathy’s trenches. To the extent that they can even out their emotional spotlight, they can benefit immensely. So can the lucky targets of their kindness."


Jamil Zaki - Choosing empathy

Invited Symposium on Prosociality and Empathy
Society for Philosophy and Psychology 2016 
The University of Texas at Austin




Choosing Empathy

JAMIL ZAKI is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab.




BUILDING EMPATHY: How to hack empathy and get others to care more

"In a fractured world, can we hack our own sense of empathy and get others to become more empathic? Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University Jamil Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. His research examines social cognition and behavior, especially how people understand and respond to each other’s emotions.

This work spans a number of domains, social influence, prosocial behavior, and especially empathy (see for details). In addition to studying the mechanics of empathy, Dr. Zaki’s work focuses on helping people empathize better. For instance, new research from his lab examines how to encourage empathy for people from distant political and ethnic groups, and also how caregivers and healthcare professionals can effectively empathize with their patients while maintaining their own well being."




Choosing Empathy: A Conversation With Jamil Zaki [10.20.15]

"If you believe that you can harness empathy and make choices about when to experience it versus when not to, it adds a layer of responsibility to how you engage with other people. If you feel like you're powerless to control your empathy, you might be satisfied with whatever biases and limits you have on it. You might be okay with not caring about someone just because they're different from you. I want people to not feel safe empathizing in the way that they always have. I want them to understand that they're doing something deliberate when they connect with someone, and I want them to own that responsibility.

JAMIL ZAKI is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab. Jamil Zaki's Edge Bio Page."

Responses from


The Neuroscience of Fierce Compassion | #skollwf 2016
Apr 29, 2016
"What parts of the brain are stimulated when we feel fierce anger or compassion? Can compassion be learned or is it innate? Does empathy have limits, especially for those of us working on the frontlines of social change? Take an extraordinary visual trip through a real brain and hear from a new wave of researchers using the methods of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience to challenge our views on these questions. Explore how compassion—and its limits—might inform our work as social innovators."



Empathy is a moral force by Jamil Zaki

FORTHCOMING in Gray, K. & Graham, J. (Eds.), The Atlas of Moral Psychology

"More recently, however, a growing countercurrent has questioned the utility of empathy in driving moral action. This argument builds on the broader idea that emotions provide powerful but noisy inputs to people’s moral calculus (Haidt, 2001). Affective reactions often tempt people to make judgments that are logically and morally indefensible."

Full Empathy is a moral force The chapter is here.



Empathy: A motivated account by Jamil Zaki

"We often think of empathy as an automatic process. However, empathy is often context-dependent. Our willingness to empathize with others changes with different situations and with different people .A new paper by Jamil Zaki resolves this tension by underscoring the role of motivation in empathy. Motives drive our willingness to empathize. In his paper, Zaki highlights specific motives that drive people to avoid and approach empathy, illustrates a motivated model of empathy, and suggests potential interventions to maximize empathy."


Using empathy to use people: Emotional intelligence and manipulation
November 7, 2013

"People tend to stereotype psychological phenomena. It’s tempting to think that stress is always bad, resilience is always good, and so forth. Like other stereotypes, these beliefs help us neaten the world and extract signal from noise. Also like other stereotypes, such beliefs are misleading and often harmful. Call me pessimistic, but whenever the media breathlessly praises a practice or trait—meditation and grit come to mind—I always wonder about its downsides. Jogging is great for you, but not always, and not in every way (ask my knees). The same goes for happiness. My own favorite human characteristic, empathy, is no different. "


Empathy as a choice
July 29, 2013

"About 250 years ago, Adam Smith famously described the way observers might feel watching a tightrope walker.  Even while standing on solid ground, our palms sweat and our hearts race as someone wobbles hundreds of feet in the air (you can test this out here).  In essence, we experience this person’s state as our own.

Centuries later, this definition does a surprisingly good job at capturing scientific models of empathy.  Evidence from across the social and natural sciences suggests that we take on others’ facial expressions, postures, moods, and even patterns of brain activity.  This type of empathy is largely automatic.  For instance, people imitate others’ facial expressions after just a fraction of a second, often without realizing they’re doing so. Mood contagion likewise operates under the surface.  Therapists often report that, despite their best efforts, they take on patients’ moods, consistent with evidence from a number of studies."



Article: Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It



 The neuroscience of empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise
Jamil Zaki & Kevin N Ochsner
15 April 2012

"The last decade has witnessed enormous growth in the neuroscience of empathy. Here, we survey research in this domain with an eye toward evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. First, we take stock of the notable progress made by early research in characterizing the neural systems supporting two empathic sub-processes: sharing others' internal states and explicitly considering those states. Second, we describe methodological and conceptual pitfalls into which this work has sometimes fallen, which can limit its validity. These include the use of relatively artificial stimuli that differ qualitatively from the social cues people typically encounter and a lack of focus on the relationship between brain activity and social behavior. Finally, we describe current research trends that are overcoming these pitfalls through simple but important adjustments in focus, and the future promise of empathy research if these trends continue and expand."


A Conversation with Jamil Zaki About Empathy and Writing
"I had the opportunity to discuss with him Truman Capote, Sufjan Stevens, brains, and things that I barely understand.

James Scott: So one of the things we talk about a lot is empathy and how it relates to the arts. You believe it’s a necessary component, and a critical building block, in becoming an artist in the first place, right?

Jamil Zaki: Human beings are not the world champions of many things. We’re not big, strong, fast, or sharp (at least tooth-wise). But we are the world champions of understanding each other. In a way, art—and especially narrative art—is the greatest expression of that ability. Narrative is a way to embody lives and worlds we have yet to experience, and in almost all cases will never experience. In a way, it’s a type of empathy boot camp: living as many lives as possible without having to leave a single room."



What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic
January 1, 2011
A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S.

"HUMANS ARE UNLIKELY to win the animal kingdom’s prize for fastest, strongest or largest, but we are world champions at understanding one another. This interpersonal prowess is fueled, at least in part, by empathy: our tendency to care about and share other people’s emotional experiences. Empathy is a cornerstone of human behavior and has long been considered innate. A forthcoming study, however, challenges this assumption by demonstrating that empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years."



Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It
"An inborn tendency to share the feelings of others -- to feel joy at their joy, match suffering to their suffering (first labeled "Empathy" by psychologist and art theorist Theodor Lipps) -- probably forms the basis of our aversion to distress, and our willingness to help others. Empathy and altruism are evolutionarily old, as even non-human apes share emotions and respond to each others' distress: chimpanzees will forgo a chance to push a button and receive food if pressing that button also results in another chimpanzee being shocked. Apes in the wild are similarly prosocial, and will console the loser of a fight by putting their arm around his or her shoulders like friends buying each other a beer after a bad breakup. "