Choosing Empathy

Colloquium | February 8 | 12:10-1:15 p.m. | 5101 Tolman Hall

 Jamil Zaki, Assistant Professor, Stanford University

 Institute of Personality and Social Research

Empathy--people's ability to share and understand each other's emotions--is a powerful social force, but can collapse when it is most needed, for instance during intergroup conflicts. Many theories of empathy hold that it occurs automatically, something like an emotional reflex. If this is the case, then its limits might be unavoidable. In this talk, I will lay out an alternative account, under which empathy is a motivated phenomenon that people approach or avoid in response to their goals. This means that altering a person's motivational landscape can induce them to "stretch" their empathy, overcoming its typical limits. I will present evidence for this account, and also highlight the benefits of empathy for both empathizers and their communities., 510-642-5050