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Culture of Empathy Builder:   Alfred W. Kaszniak


Alfred Kaszniak & Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Science

Alfred Kaszniak is Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, University of Arizona. His publications focus on neuropsychological aspects of memory, emotion, aging, and age-related disorders of the central nervous system, particularly Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. His recent research has also examined emotion regulation and the cultivation of compassion in long-term Buddhist meditators.

His video taped presentation, 'Empathy & Compassion: Contemplative and Neuroscience Perspectives' gives an informative overview of the current understanding of the nature of empathy and compassion.

Sub Conferences: Science




Alfred Kaszniak & Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Science






Professor Al Kaszniak's talk to the UA Psychology Department
Empathy & Compassion: Contemplative and Neuroscience Perspectives

 Empathy, Compassion & Neuroscience Part 1

  • 00:00 Introduction

  • 03:00 - begin

  • What is empathy?

    • feeling

    • knowing

    • responding compassionately to others distress
         (sometime separated as compassion)

  • How do we understand compassionate response to suffering?

    • contemplative tradition view

      • fundamental part of being human

    • 4:40 science view (Ann Harrington)

      • science not convinced of natural compassion

      • altruism and self sacrifice 

  • 5:10 The Social Neuroscience of Empathy

    • difference between contemplative and scientific perspectives is narrowing

  • 5:30 Affective Sharing, resonance, mimicry, synchronize emotions

    • (Work by Frans de Waal)

    • (Work by Stephanie D. Preston)

    • mother infant, with primates

      • this is automatic - not conscious

      • studies were done to show the automatic quality

    • Studies that support this

      • shows how we do facial mimicry 

      • happy and neutral faces studies

      • the muscles in the viewer mimic others

  • Mirror Neurons and FMRi - (Work by Marco Iacoboni)

    • explain the reflective part of mirroring

    • mirroring but understand intension as well

    • first saw it in monkeys and is found in humans as well

Part Two



  • Mirror Neurons and FMRi

    • explain the reflective part of mirroring

    • mirroring but understand intension as well

  • Pain mirroring studies (Lamm and colleagues)

    • we create a simulation of the pain of others

    • seeing pain affects our own pain brain regions

  • Anterior Insular Cortex

    • body stimuli and exterior stimuli come together.

    • embodiment of emotional experience

  • 4:00 What do mediation, compassion and mirror neurons have to do with each other?

    • people who practice mediation - are more sensitive to mirroring?

    • (research by Richard Davidson at Madison, Wisconsin)

    • kindness for all beings.

  • 5:00 Self Awareness and self other differentiation

    • empathy sensing the difference between you and me.

  • Self Focus and Empathic Over arousal

    • (Work by Daniel Batson)

      • Self-focused perspective-taking arouses more intense empathic distress

      • (is this sympathy?)

    • Nancy Eisenberg

      • (is this sympathy and the impulse is to turn away and not be with the person suffering)

      • (sympathy can inhibit empathy?)

      • those who show greater physiologic emotional response to others discuss tend to be more self-focused, less empathy and less altruistic in respond to other's distress.

  • 6:56 Metalizing and Medial prefrontal cortex - theory of mind

    • being able to take the perspective of the other

    • example of the Sally Ann ball task

      • 3 year old says in the basket

    • about Sally-Ann Test

Sally Anne Test


Part Three:

  • Default Mode: Activating the Self

    • brains scans

    • default mode? computation of self of me at rest

  • Compassion and conceptual Bering Witness

    • Self-focus is reflected in the conceptual proliferation - monkey mind

      • starting to mediate the mind jumps around

    • Zen

      • clearing the mind - first step

      • tested mediators' v non mediators

        • faster return to base mode

        • let go of grasping of experiences

  • 5:00 Compassion and equanimity

    • wisdom - intentional stability - seeing clearly

      • beginners are overwhelmed by compassion

  • 6:30 - Do experienced meditator's respond differently to emotional stimuli and or regulate emotion differently than non meditator's?

    •  did studies to test this


Part Four:

  •   Do experienced meditator's respond differently to emotional stimuli and or regulate emotion differently than non meditator's?

    • did studies to test this - continued

    • emotional pictures

    • pleasant pictures

    • unpleasant pictures

    • 3:30 responses to masked emotional pictures

  • attention and clarity


Part Five:

  • heartbeat detection

  • interviews with participants of their emotion experience

  • test heart rates - for vagal tone

  • 4:00 summary

    • short term meditator's

      • paid more attention to emotion

      • more clarity

      • more body feelings

      • more heart rate control

    • long term meditator's

      • higher clarity

      • less heart rate

      • less arousal

      • regulating emotions

  • 5:20 meditator's - less grabbing on to emotion

    • clarity may give regulatory skill

    • less appraisal of self

  • 6:40 future research questions

    • does this change from pre to post intensive mediation retreat?

    • do long-term meditator's show more compassionate social interaction?

    • End of Talk

Part Six:

  • Q and A

    • 1. compassion meditation

    • 2. emotions studies..

    • 3. shift of blood supply

    • 4. short and long term meditator's

    • 5  variables

    • 6.  higher arousal

    • 7. 2 by 2 of social interaction

    • 8. is equanimity moving away from empathy?

      • no

      • empathic distress can lead to compassion fatigue

Part Seven:

  • 9. equilibrium

    • perspective taking

    • be able to come to the aid

  • 10.   looking at the photo - being overwhelmed

  • 11. Carol - self understanding - the brain in neutral state

    • problem is when you get stuck in it

    • goal is not get rid of the self

    • but to quiet down

  • 12. cognitive control or experience of the emotion

    • sort term meditator's -

    • long term meditator's - self becomes self relevant

  • 13. insight meditation vr. loving kindness

    • different types of meditation

  • 14. suggestions for meditation - keep doing it