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Join the International Conference on: How Might We Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion?

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Olga Klimecki


Olga Klimecki & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on Building Empathy & Compassion

Olga Klimecki did her PhD with Tania Singer at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. She is interested in understanding the neural mechanisms that shape our social emotions in adaptive ways. In several longitudinal studies, she examined how far training social emotions, like compassion and empathy, changes affective experience, prosocial behaviour, and neural function (as measured by fMRI).

In January 2013, Olga started as a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences in Geneva, Switzerland. The goal of the current project is to investigate the elicitation, expression and regulation of anger. 


In our dialog we discussed different definitions of empathy, sympathy, compassion, personal distress, compassion fatigue and empathy fatigue. People use these various terms differently and interchangeably. This causes a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.  We also explored dealing with personal distress and how to developing personal resilience by using mindfulness practices, empathic listening and empathy circles.
Sub Conferences: Science


Olga Klimecki & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on Building Empathy & Compassion




The Role of Empathy and Compassion in Conflict Resolution
Olga M. Klimecki  
July 2, 2019
"Empathy and empathy-related processes, such as compassion and personal distress, are recognized to play a key role in social relations. This review examines the role of empathy in interpersonal and intergroup relations, including intractable conflicts. Despite the limitations of empathy, there is growing evidence that empathy and compassion are associated with more prosocial behavior in interpersonal relations. Furthermore, empathy and compassion have been associated with more favorable attitudes and higher readiness for reconciliation across a range of intergroup settings. This review ends by summarizing recent evidence for the beneficial effects of compassion training on interpersonal and intergroup relations and by outlining new avenues for future research on how compassion training could reduce intergroup conflicts."


Empathy promotes altruistic behavior in economic interactions
by Olga M. Klimecki
"These data extend standard economic theories that altruism is based on fairness considerations, by showing that empathic feelings can be a key motivator for altruistic behavior in economic interactions."


Olga Klimecki - Empathy and Compassion in Society 2012 - Video 4

  • Plasticity of Compassion, neuroscience

  • Compassion training and how it changes the brain

  • What does it mean we can train our minds an emotions

    • we can change the way we respond to things, others suffering, other triggers, etc

  • Interest in Plasticity of the social brain

    • can we train empathy and compassion?

    • How are training effects associated with changes in the affective experience, brain, and social behaviour.

  • We are faced with the suffering of others. dying patients, homeless, etc,

    Meeting the Suffering of Others
    When we meet suffering with empathy it can go in two different pathways



    - other-related emotion
    - positive feelings
    - prosocial motivation





    Personal Distress

    - self-related emotion
    - negative feelings
    - withdrawal


  • Definition of Empathy

    • sharing another persons - but knowing the difference between my feelings and yours - self other distinction

    • if you are sad I am sad

    • if you are happy - I am happy

  • Definition of Compassion

    • an emotion of concern for the suffering of another, very closely linked to the motivation to alleviate the suffering

    • has a prosocial motivation

  • When faced with the suffering of another person, we can go into personal distress

    • we feel the suffering of the other person as if it was our own suffering

    • we can identify with it (this is sympathy) and go into this negative emotion

    • this self related emotion may lead us into withdrawal because we cannot cope with the distress

  • Can we transform personal distress into compassion

  • Studies

    • Empathy for pain networks

    • Self pain areas light up when we feel pain

  • How to shape our pain networks

  • Did  fMRI study with monk

  • Did study with participant: Training Compassion and Memory

    • Compassion training group -

      • did metta loving kindness -share the warm feeling with others

      • foster friendliness and warmth by thinking of an affiliated person

      • she takes her grandmother - person you feel care, warmth, love for

    • Memory training group -

      • take a location and link them to some words - heart - London bridge.

      • imagine a huge heart sitting on London bridge

      • not an affect training but a cognitive training

  • Measurements

    • wounded woman video - people saw video clips and said how much

      • empathy they felt

      • negative affect

      • positive affect

    • how did response go to suffering?

      • people with compassion training still felt love when seeing the suffering

      • expert meditator also had this effect

      • conclusions - compassion training can foster nice feelings

  • How is compassion different from personal distress?

    • how to transform personal distress into compassion?

    • (very individualist and self centered processes and tests)

    • New Study

      Empathy compassion   affect group)
      Memory memory   memory group


  • Empathy Intervention - imagine a series of people

    • don't imagine love and warmth

    • imagine the pain of others as if it was your pain

      • really go into this shared pain

      • do it for a day

    • empathy training increased empathy responses

  • Compassion Intervention

  • Memory Intervention

  • Compassion training increase helping behaviour in a little game.

  • Empathy training

    • increases negative feelings

  • Compassion training

    • increased prosocial behaviour

    • increased positive emotions

    • increased activation of areas related to love, affiliation

    • can overcome empathic distress


Publications   (page 2)

Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2013). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral Cortex, 23(7), 1552-1561

Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Ricard, M., & Singer, T. (2013). Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

  • Book Chapter: Klimecki, O., Ricard, M., & Singer, T. (2013). Empathy versus compassion: Lessons from 1st and 3rd person methods. In T. Singer, & M. Bolz (Eds.),Compassion: Bridging practice and science (pp. 464-487). Retrieved from

  • Klimecki, O., Ricard, M., & Singer, T. (2013). Empathy versus compassion: Lessons from 1st and 3rd person methods. In T. Singer, & M. Bolz (Eds.),Compassion: Bridging practice and science (pp. 464-487). Retrieved from
  • Klimecki, O., & Singer, T. (2012). Empathic distress fatigue rather than compassion fatigue? Integrating findings from empathy research in psychology and social neuroscience. In B. Oakley, A. Knafo, G. Madhavan, & D. S. Wilson (Eds.), Pathological altruism (pp. 368-383). New York: Oxford University Press.




Meeting the Suffering of Others


feelings, intentions,

  Compassion - other-related emotion
- positive feelings
- prosocial motivation
  joy   Sympathy -
Empathy suffering Suffering Empathy Be present
      Fear Fight
      Personal Distress - self-related emotion
- negative feelings
- withdrawal