Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

   Home    Conference   Magazine   Empathy Tent   Services    Newsletter   Facebook    Youtube   Contact   Search

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

Empathic Design
Empathy Circles

  Restorative Empathy Circles
Empathy Tent

Expert Interviews
Obama on Empathy


    Empathy Tests


Culture of Empathy Builder:  Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

Empathy Expert Big Page:

Psychologist, worked at UCSF. 'He has been considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century.' wikipedia
Author or many books. Studies emotion and facial expressions
Says there's 3 types of empathy:
    - cognitive
    - emotional
    - compassionate empathy.

2011-02-28 - Paul Ekman talks about the nature of Empathy with Edwin Rutsch


  • Introduction:

    • retired professor of Psychology from University of California San Francisco

    • has small business, develops training for emotional skills

  • You've done a lot of work on the theme of Compassion?

    • compassion is a more recent interest

    • my main work was on emotion and expression, the physiology

    • there are some universals in emotions

    • it unifies mankind and cuts across species

    • we can see, hear emotions  while thoughts, attitudes, values, are quiet

    • emotional signals are universal too

      • that unifies our species

    • Since I got to know the Dali Lama 11 years ago I became interested in compassion

      • it differs from emotions

      • this got me interested in empathy

        • which is a bit of a minefield

        • I don't consider myself an expert on empathy

        • I never studied empathy per se.

        • I have to think about it to write about compassion

      • There are two kinds of empathy

        • Cognitive

          •  I appreciate how others are feeling, but I don't feel it.

        • Affective

          • can and do feel in my body what others are feeling

      • empathy is broader than compassion - compassion is with suffering

        • if I feel your joy, you're not suffering but that's an empathetic response

        • if I feel your anger, and I join you in your anger, is it empathetic

      • Compassion is a subset of both the Cognitive and Affective parts of empathy

        • focused on trying to deal with the suffering of another person

        • Compassion is a much more narrower slice from the world of empathy

  • 4:40  I've seen compassion as empathy applied to pain?

    • there's more suffering than pain

      • pain is a very literal physical pain

      • the human body is equipped with an amazing variety of physical pain, nerve endings

    • there's also mental suffering

    • compassion encompasses both

      • if I know your upset, feeling anxiety, loss of hope, I can feel compassion

      • when I say they are mental, I mean they don't involve physical pain

      • of course everything is mental - it's in the brain in by mind

      • the Dali Lama disagrees, he believes when the brain is dead the mind is still alive and continues

  • 6:50 Does the Dali Lama have the same definition of empathy and compassion?

    • I know he has the same definition of compassion,

    • we have not yet talked about definition of  empathy.

    • Resonance - refers to having the actual experience

      • I can resonate in two ways

        • having the same feeling

        • having a different feeling

      • if you're angry I can say,

        • I'm so sorry your angry - a resonate response, not the same feeling

      • it's another term for empathy, if we leave out sympathetic concern to act, to relieve

    • compassion includes the wanting to relieve your suffering

      • resonating with your suffering and the action

      • there's no necessary connection between the two

    • we can feel the emotion and not act on it

    • can feel compassionate and not act on it

    • does the action require the affective feeling?

      • Dali Lama believes that it does, at least in the early stages

      • he believes the act become involuntary

      • you can not but act,

    • I'm interested in preventative compassion

      • forsee future suffering and action to reduce that suffering

      • there's no or little affective feeling involved

      • there's a motivation - wish to do good

      • for example - trying to avoid disaster like earth quake prevention

      • Motivations for getting into medicine, wanting to do good

  • 13:00 Do you have a personal metaphor for empathy? looking through someone's eyes

    • is it me that is still looking - through your eyes?

    • or has myself merged with yourself.

    • does empathy extend to all human experience? or is it limited to emotions or effect?

    • empathy related to understanding in general?

    • empathy is focused more around emotional experience, maybe moods as well

  • 16:00 Based on mirror neurons?

    • I have some doubts about that.

      • that the feelings are exact and identical perfect mirror replica

    • an approximation? is an open question

    • each of us experiences the same emotions, hardwired in our brain

      • they play on different hardware

      • the same emotion experienced by two people, may be experienced differently

    • the likelihood that 2 people ever have identical emotional experiences is low

    • it's not relevant to the issue of compassion or sympathy

    • sympathy is a step in addition to empathy

      • know how you feel, but feel some concern

      • it's appropriate or inappropriate

      • usually we think of sympathy as appropriate

        • justified

  • 19:00 Sympathy and sorrow?

    • being sympathetic with your anger

    • sympathetic with any emotion

    • the justifiability

    • understanding why the emotion is occurring and it's appropriateness

  • 21:20  A metaphor of empathy?

    • as a scientist I don't deal much with the world of metaphor.

    • I avoided them, metaphor doesn't provide precision.

  • 25:00 Over the course of your life how did empathy become important to you?

    • I didn't think much about empathy until the last few years.

    • only forced on me because of the Dali Lama's interest in compassion

    • I say forced because I would rather not deal with all the confusing literature on empathy

    • the scientific literature on compassion is smaller and more convergent

    • literature on empathy is all over the place

    • I'm fairly sure there's no signal that's unique for compassion as there is for fear, sadness, etc

    • I'm interested in compassionate action and behavior, physiology and origin. not just expression

  • 27:30 I heard a definition of empathy as being when the blocks to action are removed?

    • that's a congruence of action

    • everyone can have their own definition, I wouldn't define it that way.

    • I can feel as you feel without acting.

  • 28:40 Are you familiar with the work of Carl Rogers?

    • I was undergraduate at U Chicago where he taught

    • I know about Rogerian therapy

  • 30:00 That tradition was build on by Marshall Rosenberg and nonviolent communications, they do empathic listening?

    • you can use it in a variety of ways.

    • I use it in criminal interrogation, teach it to law enforcement

    • for a different purpose for people to talk more

    • if you can get people to talk more, it's the talking process that's helpful

    • we used to think that a sympathetic listener was a critical ingredient

    • In fact the listener doesn't seem to be the issue, I'm skeptical about that.

    • the importance of the nature of the listener, some qualities

  • 32:00 As I understand it the quality of being heard/empathy releases Oxytocin? is a stress reliever.

    • I'm not so interested in that

  • My experience of dancing and empathy. 'Hearing' the person physically.

    • important to identify the situations that feel good and want to repeat

    • some things feel good that we don't want to repeat.

    • some things like looking out the window at the sail boats

  • 35:00 How can we build a culture of empathy?

    • the survival of the planet as we know it depends on global compassion

    • we need to  feel concern to reduce suffering of all people

    • world is far from that

    • can we get there in time?

      • if everyone felt like they do  for their family or offspring

      • and had an impulsive wish to help

    • we have to first care about others

      • is empathy the role for achieving that?

      • I don't have the answers, I just have the questions

      • it's the number one problem

      • I'm talking with the Dali Lama about it

        • he feels there are Buddhist practices that will help

        • I feel even if he's right it's a lost cause because it will take to long

        • he says one 'person at a time',  I feel we don't have enough time for that.

      • We have to find other means and I don't know what they are

        • there may not be any, not every problem has a solution

    • If we had a more global compassion these problems wouldn't be happening

      • we have to care about other people

      • the capacity is build into us.

        • the seed, we have it for an infant but not the rest of the world

        • how can we extend that

        • I put the question out there wherever I get a chance.

      • I'm not sure what research I would do on this.

        • it takes more thinking on what is the path?

        • I haven't seen the path. I don't think it will come from

          • Religions conversions

          • Buddhist meditation in a short enough time

  • 40:30 Barack Obama ran on the theme of empathy? mentioned Empathy Deficit.

    • see what being president has done to him

    • I'll bet it has not been good for his empathetic concerns

    • has enormous constraints

  • 41:15 Any wrap up thoughts?

    • I said my primary moral concerns, and I believe that science would lead to better lives for all people.

    • If I was president, thank god I'm not, I would start a Manhattan Project on global empathy. It has the urgency of the Manhattan Project. It needs the bringing together of the best minds in the world to focus on this issue, because there is an urgency too it. I think Al Gore was right, that time is running out. We can't wait 20 or 40 years to figure out what to do with this problem.

Paul Ekman - Is Compassion An Emotion? - Empathy and Compassion in Society 2013

  • compassion is not an emotion

  • qualities of familial compassion

  • We need global compassion


What is compassion? Dr Paul Ekman speaks to Lili and Alexi 


Can we develop compassion? An interview of Dr Ekman by young people for young people


Compassion and Deceit

Types of Compassion

  • familial

  • ?

  • ?



Paul Ekman - Darwin, the Dalai Lama and the Nature of Compassion



Paul Ekman: The Roots of Compassion



2010-06-21 - Paul Ekmanís Taxonomy of Compassion
Darwin and the Dalai Lama, United by Compassion

2010-06-21 - Darwin and the Dalai Lama, United by Compassion
The renowned psychologist shows what Darwin and the Dalai Lama have in common, explores the roots of heroism, and discusses the need for a global compassion.


  • Darwin's view of sympathy

  • Dali Lama and compassion.

  • At Stanford talk compassion

  • Facial recognition

Paul Ekmanís Taxonomy of Compassion

  • Emotion Recognition

  • Emotional Resonance

  • Familial Compassion

  • Global Compassion

  • Sentient Compassion

  • Heroic Compassion