Expanding Empathy Lecture Series

Expanding Empathy Lecture Series

Bringing together perspectives on empathy and moral decision-making from researchers from around the world, and providing a window into understanding when, why, and how people decide to have empathy and concern and help other people.

The Expanding Empathy Lectures Are hosted through the Moral Agency and Moral Development Initiative in the Rock Ethics Institute. The initiative is convened by Daryl Cameron, assistant professor of psychology and research associate in the Institute. The series is devoted to understanding the psychological underpinnings of empathy and moral decision-making.

“The objective of the Expanding Empathy lecture series is to bring in researchers from around the world who do work on empathy and moral decision-making from a variety of perspectives,” Cameron explains. “And it’s meant to provide a window into understanding when, why, and how people decide to have empathy and concern and help other people.”

“It’s meant to be a diverse set of perspectives and angles on the different ways that empathy can manifest in everyday life contexts,” Cameron says. “And not just abstract, philosophical discussions—which are quite nice—but some of the topics we studied have direct, practical relevance to things like inter-group conflict and changes in empathy over time and across generations.”

The speakers tailored their presentations to a broad audience, anyone interested in empathy: the public, undergraduate and graduate students, and researchers alike. And as there have been a variety of calls within Penn State to expand the focus on empathy in the University community, Cameron wants to start expanding the series next year with that in mind.

During spring semester 2019, three speakers launched the series: Michael Poulin, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at SUNY Buffalo, discussed research that suggests that empathy and personal discomfort need not go hand in hand, and that less discomfort may translate to more prosocial action.

Kurt Gray, associate professor of psychology at UNC, Chapel Hill, discussed why the past 20 years of moral psychology research may be misguided and outlined a new theory of moral judgment grounded in mind perception.

Sara Konrath, assistant professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University, discussed changes over time in empathy and mental health as symptoms of societal burnout.

Cameron notes that the inaugural speakers were researchers invited from other institutions, and he would like to bridge those with speakers internal to Penn State. “I could imagine connecting with other institutes and departments at the University…creating connections through external speakers, but also creating and building a greater sense of the Penn State network and a community of folks who care about empathy, compassion, and prosocial emotions…and finding ways to cultivate those and make those relationships stronger.”