The Scientific Case for Compassion – feat. a TEDx Talk by Dacher Keltner

Even though the idea of compassion lies at the heart of virtually each and every religious and spiritual movement (with Buddhism and the Dalai Lama problably being the frontrunner), psychological science has ignored this important feature of our human nature for quite a long time, describing it as a subtype of other, more primary emotions. Starting with research on meditation, such as carried out by pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, the topic has slowly but surely entered the “regular” academic discourse. Nowadays, the science of compassion is a full-blown discipline, being researched, e.g., at Stanford´s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) or Berkeley´s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).

In 2010, researchers Jennifer L. Goetz, Dacher Keltner, and Emiliana Simon-Thomas authored a review article that sought to make a case for the idea that compassion is a truly distinctive feature on the continuum of human behavior and emotion. Here´s what they have to say in their conclusion:

Our review reveals compassion to arise out of distinct appraisal processes, to have distinct display behaviors, distinct experiences, and an approach-related physiological response. The state like experience of compassion, and the trait like tendency to feel compassion, fall under the purview of three evolutionary arguments: that compassion evolved as part of a caregiving response to vulnerable offspring, that compassionate individuals were preferred in mate selection processes, and that compassion emerged as a desirable trait in cooperative relations between non-kin.

If you want to hear the full story, please read the aforementioned article. You may also want to watch this TEDx talk by Dacher Keltner (who´s the director of the aforementioned GGSC). Enjoy!

A little Kindness goes a long Way: heart-warming Short Film about the Power of being a Giver

No time for writing today. But I´d like to share a video with you that powerfully transports the upsides (and to a much lesser extent: the downsides…) of being a “Giver” in the spirit of Adam Grant.

It´s a commercial, alright. But it´s still beautiful…

Enjoy!

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Positive Psychology…in Songs

  1. If you´re Happy and you know it clap your Hands! – Teddy Rock
  2. Go with the Flow! – Northern Lite
  3. If you can´t be with the One you love – love the One you´re with! – Crosby, Stills and Nash
  4. Find your own Voice! – Stratovarius
  5. You can get it if you really want! – Jimmy Cliff
  6. (Get out your seats and) Jump around! – House of Pain
  7. (Take) A Walk in the Park! – Nick Straker Band
  8. (What doesn´t kill you makes you) Stronger! – Kelly Clarkson
  9. Your Life is Now! – John Mellencamp
  10. It´s always more Fun to share with Everyone! (The Sharing Song) – Jack Johnson

Any suggestions from your side? I´m not a Christian (any more) – so I could very well live with 17 or 333 commandments…

If you´re Happy and you know it clap your Hands!

–> Research on the benefits of positive emotions.

 

Go with the Flow!

–> Research on the benefits of experiencing flow.

 

If you can´t be with the One you love – love the One you´re with!

–> Research on the benefits of positive relationships.

 

Find your own Voice!*

–> Research on the benefits of finding meaning and purpose in life.

 

You can get it if you really want!

–> Research on the benefits of grit and achievement.

 

(Get out your seats and) Jump around!

–> Research on the benefits of physical exercise.

 

(Take) A Walk in the Park!

–> Research on the benefits of spending time in nature.

 

(What doesn´t kill you makes you) Stronger!

–> Research on the benefits of post-traumatic growth.

 

Your Life is Now!

–> Research on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

 

It´s always more Fun to share with Everyone! (The Sharing Song)**

–> Research on the benefits of altruism.

 

* I just couldn´t resist putting one of favorite metal bands in this list. Kiitos, Stratovarius!

** The last song is also a hint at what to do with this post… 🙂

Why I buy Flowers for my Wife (almost) every Week – not only on Valentine´s Day

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First thing to say: Because she deserves it, obviously! Second: the headline includes “almost”. Let´s be honest here. I travel a lot, but on a lot of Saturdays, she gets ´em.

Now, there is reason and a story behind this. I buy flowers for my wife because of my grandpa. He served in World War II, got wounded several times, and was a prisoner of war for about a year towards the end of the story. When I was a boy, he used to tell me stories of that time over and over again: Mostly horrible stories of him seeing his comrades being torn to pieces by grenades – but there was one story that I particularly liked. He used to recount:

You know, I am not a very religious guy. But when I was a prisoner, I prayed to God. And I told him: Please God, if you let me return home to my wife, I promise you I will buy her roses every weekend until the end of my life.

And as far as I know, he kept his promise. Later, when I was a young man and my grandpa could hardly walk any more due to long-term sequelae of his battlefield injuries, I used to do the grocery shopping for my grandparents on Saturday mornings. Grandpa would always give me an extra 20 Deutsche Mark so I could buy roses for grandma at his favorite flower shop. And I would bring home the roses – and he would give them to her. We did this right to the end.

So that´s why I buy roses for my wife (almost) every week. I´ve learned from the best. Here´s to you, Opa…

“Bad” Circles and “good” Triangles: Are Human Beings hard-wired for Altruism?

The morning of the last day of MAPP immersion week was once again hosted by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom. That day, he gave a brilliant lecture on (the development of) moral reasoning and corresponding research in that area. He argued that most research on the infamous trolley problem is seriously flawed – because all those thought experiments are typically carried out thinking about total strangers. Instead, he explained, our “moral sense” is necessarily awakened within close groups of acquaintances: our family and friends – our “tribe” – which in the end leads to completely different moral decisions.

What I found even more interesting is the question displayed the title of this blog post: Are we “moral blank slates” when coming into this world – or are children born with an innate preference to like “the Good”? In short: there is considerable empirical evidence that the latter may well be true. If you would like to find out, please watch this Youtube clip from the New York Times. It shows very cute (and insightful…) experiments carried out with six to twelve months old babies investigating – among other things – their ability to discriminate good and bad stuffed animals.

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Of course these experiments do not undoubtedly prove that all men are created (equally) good. But at least I´m pretty sure now we´re anything but hard-wired to become suicide bombers or the like. That is 100% nurture, not nature. Seeing pictures* like this almost breaks my heart…**

* This picture can be found on the internet numerous times. Unfortunately, I could not get hold of its original source. If you happen to know, please contact me.

** This is meant as an example only, I don´t intend to offend any Muslim people. Actually, one of our bridesmaids is Muslim. It´s just that this picture gives a perfect example of how men oftentimes corrupt their own children… :-/