Building Empathy in a Fractured World
Date and Time:
Dec 4 2019 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
New Trier High School, Winnetka Campus, Gaffney Auditorium
385 Winnetka Ave., Winnetka, IL 60093
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Jamil Zaki, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Director, Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory, Stanford University

Building Empathy in a Fractured World

Connection | Culture | Mental Health | Psychology | Relationships | Well Being

Our modern society is practically designed to destroy empathy. As cities grow and solitary living becomes more common, we see more people than ever before, but know fewer of them. Rituals that bring us into regular contact—attending church, participating in team sports—have given way to solitary pursuits, often carried out over the Internet. When we encounter someone online, the first thing we often learn about them is what we like the least. They are enemies before they have a chance to be people.

Amid these toxic social forces, studies demonstrate that the average person’s empathy has eroded over the last forty years. Jamil Zaki, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory at Stanford University, has dedicated his career to understanding why. His research focuses on the cognitive and neural bases of social behavior, and in particular on how people respond to each other’s emotions (empathy), why they conform to each other (social influence), and why they choose to help each other (prosociality). In his first book, The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, he uses his groundbreaking research to explain how society can address the empathy deficit and fight back against tribalism, isolation, and exhaustion.

Prof. Zaki begins by giving us an entirely new understanding of how empathy works. Empathy–our ability to connect with one another’s emotions–is at the heart of humanity’s ability to thrive together. But in many ways, the modern world has made it harder than ever to care for each other. Thankfully, empathy is not a fixed trait; rather, it’s a skill which we can grow through practice. In this talk, Prof. Zaki will describe insights about how we can learn to empathize better, and work towards mending the growing tears in our social fabric.

Prof. Zaki received his B.A. in cognitive neuroscience from Boston University, his Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University, and received postdoctoral training at Harvard University. Among his many early career awards, Prof. Zaki was recently awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists.