Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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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:  Jean Decety

Jean Decety

 "Jean Decety is a French American neuroscientist specializing in developmental neuroscience, affective neuroscience, and social neuroscience. His research focuses on the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning social cognition, particularly emotion, empathy, moral reasoning, altruism, pro-social behavior, and more generally interpersonal processes. He is Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago." (wikipedia)

 He is editor of
 the books, 'The Social Neuroscience of Empathy' and 'Empathy: From Bench to Bedside'.





Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats in Science »

The neurodevelopment of moral sensitivity in Cerebral Cortex »

Phylogeny and ontogeny of empathy in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience »


Class: The Social Brain and Empathy
"The experience of empathy is a powerful interpersonal phenomenon and a necessary means of everyday social communication. It facilitates parental care of offspring. It enables us to live in groups and socialize. It paves the way for the development of moral reasoning and motivates prosocial behavior. Empathy is an essential cornerstone of the patient-doctor relationship. It is associated with better outcomes and fewer malpractice claims. For a very long time, empathy has been a focus of speculation in philosophy. But in the past decade, empathy research has blossomed into a vibrant and multidisciplinary field of study, which includes developmental psychology, evolutionary biology, social psychology, and affective social neuroscience."



2012 - The Roots of Empathy Found in Rats
A collaboration by University of Chicago neuroscientists Inbal Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy
Mason has produced groundbreaking findings on empathy and helping behavior. Published in
Science, the paper, entitled Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats, finds that rats repeatedly
work to free their trapped cagemates, motivated by empathy for their distress.

2011-08-01 - Project Will Study the Neural Basis of Psychopathy

A leading University of Chicago researcher on empathy is launching a project to understand psychopathy by studying criminals in prisons. Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry, has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to use fMRI technology to examine the neural circuitry of criminal psychopaths.

2006-04 - Mirrored Emotion  
"A basic human impulse affecting the course of history, culture, and personal connections, empathy is also a neuro-logical fact—and one that’s increasingly understood. TO NEUROSCIENTIST JEAN DECETY, empathy resembles a sort of minor constellation: clusters of encephalic stars glowing in the cosmos of an otherwise dark brain. “See how they flash,” Decety says, pointing to the orange-lit anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula on an fMRI scan. “This person is witnessing another person in pain. ... What’s interesting is that this network of regions is also involved in the firsthand experience of pain.”

The neuroevolution of empathy

"There is strong evidence that empathy has deep evolutionary, biochemical, and neurological underpinnings. Even the most advanced forms of empathy in humans are built on more basic forms and remain connected to core mechanisms associated with affective communication, social attachment, and parental care. Social neuroscience has begun to examine the neurobiological mechanisms that instantiate empathy, especially in response to signals of distress and pain, and how certain dispositional and contextual moderators modulate its experience.

2010-12 -The Neurodevelopment of Empathy in Humans
"Empathy, which implies a shared interpersonal experience, is implicated in many aspects of social cognition, notably prosocial behavior, morality and the regulation of aggression. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the current knowledge in developmental and affective neuroscience with an emphasis on the perception of pain in others. It will be argued that human empathy involves several components: affective arousal, emotion understanding and emotion regulation, each with different developmental trajectories.

2009-09-24 - First academic conference on empathy will examine its advantages, disadvantages
(see also Conferences)
"Decety will present “The Benefit and the Costs of Empathy: the Price of Being Human,” in which he’ll look at the physiological and social costs associated with being too empathic. A growing number of Decety’s functional neuro-imaging studies of pain empathy demonstrate the overlap between the first hand experience of pain and the perception of pain in others."

Video: Empathy Switch  
The Empathy Switch: How Doctors Regulate Pain Perception 


05. What are the limits of empathy in Pain?
MD, Dr. Hillel Braude, Clinical Ethics, McGill University, Canada
Prof. Jean Decety, Neurobiology, Psychiatry, University of Chicago, USA


Video: The Benefits and the Costs of Empathy: the Price of Being Human



The Social Neuroscience of Empathy - Edited by Jean Decety and William Ickes

"In recent decades, empathy research has blossomed into a vibrant and multidisciplinary field of study. The social neuroscience approach to the subject is premised on the idea that studying empathy at multiple levels (biological, cognitive, and social) will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of how other people's thoughts and feelings can affect our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. In these cutting-edge contributions, leading advocates of the multilevel approach view empathy from the perspectives of social, cognitive, developmental, and clinical psychology and cognitive/affective neuroscience."






Seeking to Understand the Minds (and Brains) of People Who are Seeking to Understand Other People's Minds
                  Jean Decety and William Ickes

Section 1. What Is Empathy?

  • Chapter 1. These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related But Distinct Phenomena -
                     C. Daniel Batson

Section 2. Social, Cognitive, and Developmental Perspectives on Empathy

  • Chapter 2. Emotional Contagion and Empathy
                      Elaine Hatfield, Richard L. Rapson and Yen-Chi Le

  • Chapter 3. Being imitated: Consequences of non-consciously showing empathy
                     Rick B. van Baaren, Jean Decety, Ap Dijksterhuis, Andries van der Leij and Matthijs L. van Leeuwen.

  • Chapter 4. Empathy and knowledge projection
                     Raymond S. Nickerson, Susan F. Butler and Michael Carlin

  • Chapter 5. Empathic Accuracy: Its Links to Clinical, Cognitive, Developmental, Social, and Physiological Psychology
                     William Ickes

  • Chapter 6. Empathic Responding: Sympathy and Personal Distress
                     Nancy Eisenberg and Natalie D. Eggum

  • Chapter 7. Empathy and Education
                     Norma Deitch Feshbach and Seymour Feshbach

Section 3. Clinical Perspectives on Empathy

  • Chapter 8. Rogerian Empathy in an Organismic Theory: A Way of Being
                     Jerold D. Bozarth

  • Chapter 9. Empathy in Psychotherapy: Dialogue and Embodied Understanding
                     Mathias Dekeyser, Robert Elliott and Mia Leijssen

  • Chapter 10. Empathic resonance: A neuroscience perspective
                     Jeanne C. Watson and Leslie S. Greenberg

  • Chapter 11. Empathy, morality and social convention: Evidence from the study of psychopathy and other psychiatric disorders
                     R.J.R. Blair

  • Chapter 12. Perceiving others in pain: Experimental and clinical evidence on the role of empathy
                     Liesbet Goubert, Kenneth D. Craig and Anne Buysse

Section 4. Evolutionary and Neuroscience Perspectives on Empathy

  • Chapter 13. Neural and Evolutionary Perspectives on Empathy
                     C. Sue Carter, James Harris and Stephen W. Porges

  • Chapter 14. Mirror, mirror, in my mind: Empathy, interpersonal competence, and the mirror neuron system
                     Jennifer H. Pfeifer and Mirella Dapretto.

  • Chapter 15. Empathy versus personal distress - recent evidence from social neuroscience
                     Jean Decety and Claus Lamm

  • Chapter 16. Empathic processing: its cognitive and affective dimensions and neuroanatomical basis
                     Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory



Empathy: From Bench to Bedside

"There are many reasons for scholars to investigate empathy. Empathy plays a crucial role in human social interaction at all stages of life; it is thought to help motivate positive social behavior, inhibit aggression, and provide the affective and motivational bases for moral development; it is a necessary component of psychotherapy and patient-physician interactions. This volume covers a wide range of topics in empathy theory, research, and applications, helping to integrate perspectives as varied as anthropology and neuroscience.

The contributors discuss the evolution of empathy within the mammalian brain and the development of empathy in infants and children; the relationships among empathy, social behavior, compassion, and altruism; the neural underpinnings of empathy; cognitive versus emotional empathy in clinical practice; and the cost of empathy."

Introduction: Why Is Empathy So Important? - Jean Decety

I Philosophical and Anthropological Perspectives on Empathy 1

  • 1 Empathy without Isomorphism: A Phenomenological Account - Dan Zahavi & Søren Overgaard

  • 2 Empathy, Evolution, and Human Nature -  Allan Young

II The Contribution of Social Psychology

  • 3 The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: Issues and Implications - C. Daniel Batson

  • 4 It’s More than Skin Deep: Empathy and Helping Behavior across Social Groups - Stephanie Echols & Joshua Correll

  • 5 Empathy Is Not Always as Personal as You May Think: The Use of Stereotypes in Empathic Accuracy -  Karyn L. Lewis & Sara D. Hodges

III Evolutionary Roots of Empathy

  • 6 Empathy in Primates and Other Mammals  -  Frans B. M. de Waal

IV The Development of Empathy

  • 7 Nature and Forms of Empathy in the First Years of Life - Sharee Light and Carolyn Zahn-Waxler vi Contents

  • 8 Social-Cognitive Contributors to Young Children ’ s Empathic and Prosocial Behavior - Amrisha Vaish and Felix Warneken

  • 9 Relations of Empathy-Related Responding to Children ’ s and Adolescents ’ Social Competence - Nancy Eisenberg, Snjezana Huerta, and Alison Edwards

V The Neuroscience of Empathy and Caring

  • 10 How Children Develop Empathy: The Contribution of Developmental Affective Neuroscience  - Jean Decety  & Kalina J. Michalska

  • 11 Empathy and Compassion: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective  -  Abigail A. Marsh

  • 12 The Cognitive Neuroscience of Sharing and Understanding Others ’ Emotions - Jamil Zaki and Kevin Ochsner

VI Empathy in Clinical Practice

  • 13 Clinical Empathy in Medical Care - Jodi Halpern

  • 14 The Costs of Empathy among Health Professionals - Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht and Jean Decety

  • 15 The Empathic Response in Clinical Practice: Antecedents and Consequences - Charles R. Figley

  • 16 The Paradox of Teaching Empathy in Medical Education - Johanna Shapiro

  • 17 Empathy and Neuroscience: A Psychoanalytic Perspective - David M. Terman

Author Index

Subject Index