How Do We Increase Empathy?

In my last column, I wrote about a high school buddy, Kevin Green, a warm and helpful man who floundered in a tough job market, hurt his back and died at the age of 54. The column was a call for empathy for those who are struggling, but, predictably, scolds complained that Kevin’s problems were of his own making.


So what do we know about empathy and how to nurture it?

First, it seems hard-wired. Even laboratory rats will sometimes free a trapped companion before munching on a food treat.

“Probably the biggest empathy generator is cuteness: paedomorphic features such as large eyes, a large head, and a small lower face,” Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, tells me. “Professional empathy entrepreneurs have long known this, of course, which is why so many charities feature photos of children and why so many conservation organizations feature pandas. Prettier children are more likely to be adopted, and baby-faced defendants get lighter sentences.”

Not much we can do about looks — although criminal defense lawyers try, by having scruffy clients shave and dress up before appearing in court.

There’s also some research suggesting that wealth may impede empathy. One study by psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley finds that drivers of luxury cars are more likely to cut off other motorists and ignore pedestrians at a crosswalk. Likewise, heart rates of wealthier research subjects are less affected when they watch a video of children with cancer.

Granted, skepticism is reasonable any time (mostly liberal) academics reach conclusions that portray the wealthy in a poor light. But these experiments also find a measure of backing in the real world. For example, among Democratic politicians, personal wealth is a predictor of supporting legislation that would increase inequality, according to a journal article last year by Michael W. Kraus and Bennett Callaghan.

Likewise, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans give significantly less to charity as a fraction of income (1.4 percent) than the poorest 20 percent do (3.5 percent), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

That may be partly because affluence insulates us from need, so that disadvantage becomes theoretical and remote rather than a person in front of us. Wealthy people who live in economically diverse areas are more generous than those who live in exclusively wealthy areas.

Wealth may also turn us inward. Some experiments manipulated research subjects to think of money — such as by having them gaze at a pile of Monopoly money and imagine great wealth — and found that when a person then “accidentally” spilled pencils nearby, those thinking of great wealth were less helpful than those imagining tight budgets and picked up fewer pencils from the floor.

So how do we increase empathy?

Dacher Keltner, who runs the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, says that having people think about suffering activates the vagus nerve, which is linked to compassion. He also cites evidence that uplifting stories about sacrifice boost empathy, as do various kinds of contemplation — prayer, meditation, yoga.

Keltner says that going out into nature also appears to encourage greater compassion. Feelings of awe, such as those generated by incredible images from space, seem to do the same thing, he says.

Professor Pinker, in his superb book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” explores whether the spread of affordable fiction and journalism beginning in the 18th century expanded empathy by making it easier for people to imagine themselves in the shoes of others. Researchers have found that reading literary fiction by the likes of Don DeLillo or Alice Munro — but not beach fiction or nonfiction — can promote empathy.

I used to be cynical about student service projects, partly because they seemed so often to be about dressing up a college application, and trips so often involve countries with great beaches. (Everyone wants to help Costa Rica!) Then there was The Washington Post’s report about the Mexican church that was painted six times over the course of a summer by successive waves of visitors.

Yet I’ve come to believe that service trips do open eyes and remind students of their good fortune. In short, they build empathy.

So let’s escape the insulation of our comfort zones. Let’s encourage student service projects and travel to distant countries and to needy areas nearby. Whatever the impact on others, volunteering may at least help the volunteer. Let’s teach Dickens and DeLillo in schools, along with literature that humanizes minority groups and builds understanding.

Above all, let’s remember that compassion and rationality are not effete markers of weakness, but signs of civilization.

LCSC Alternative Spring Break

Natural Science Service Learning at Craig Mountain!

Looking for something to do during spring break? Need something to pad your resume? This is just for you. LC Service Corps is currently recruiting students for NS 292 Alternative Spring Break, where students travel with a group and participate in community service projects. This Spring Break, LC Service Corps is collaborating with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to provide a service trip to Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area!

Students will have the opportunity to travel to a cabin owned by Idaho Fish and Game tucked away in the rolling, golden canyon slopes (south of Lewiston). This is a great opportunity to enjoy the local outdoors through camping and adventure with Idaho Fish and Game professionals, while adding to a resume at very little cost to students. It teaches the history, ecology, and role of wildfire in the area, in addition to fire management planning and habitat restoration.

The trip is Sunday, March 29 – Friday, April 3, 2015. This includes transportation and lodging for 5 nights and 6 days. During free time, students will be able to enjoy hiking, camp fires and fishing if they have a fishing license. Register on warrior web for credit or sign up with the LC Service Corps to participate without a credit. 10-15 students will be admitted and spots fill up fast, so sign up as soon as possible.

For more information:

LC Service Corps
Administration Building Room 6

ASB 2015 3 without take one tab

Looking for something to do this break? Want to earn 1 credit in 1 week? Need to build your resume? Register on warrior web for credit or simply express your interest and we’ll sign you up!

This blog is from Cornell Garden-Based Learning

fater and son gardening 2Are you one of the 42 million households growing food? A special National Gardening Association report Garden to Table notes a 17% increase in food gardening from 2008. This is most significant among young people (18 to 34). If you are among the growing or want to be growing check out our Cornell Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners online forum. Right now share reviews of varieties you have grown this season. Explore what other gardeners are saying about the varieties they have grown. As the seed ordering season begins, find inspiration to get started growing or new vegetables varieties to try. Be a part of Americans success in growing food in home and community gardens.

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By Statesman staff

Boise – The Idaho Statesman December 18, 2014

Over 36 percent of Idahoans volunteered during 2013, the second highest percentage among the states, according to the latest report on volunteerism from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship.

Utah ranked at the top of the list with 45 percent of its citizens volunteering. New York was in last place with 20 percent volunteering. Those ranks were unchanged from last year. Idaho rose one place, from third to second.

The annual “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report found that more than 421,000 Idaho volunteers performed 62.3 million hours of service valued at over $1.4 billion. The rate is the percentage of people 16 or older who performed unpaid volunteer activities through or for an organization, based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

In addition to individual volunteerism, the Corporation for National and Community Service has committed more than $5.4 million to support Idaho communities through national service initiatives.

Serve Idaho, the Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism, is a division of the Idaho Department of Labor. The commission administers Idaho’s AmeriCorps programs, Idaho’s Promise, the Alliance for Youth and the Governor’s Brightest Star Awards and hosts the annual Serve Idaho Conference on Service and Volunteerism.

Primarily through Serve Idaho, over 300 people in the AmeriCorps program will provide services to meet education, environmental, health, economic, and other pressing needs in communities across Idaho.

More information about Serve Idaho and AmeriCorps service opportunities.

Read more here:

NS 150 students completed a Service-Learning project last week on Nov. 5, with the intention to increase local food source awareness and improve the community garden. Students worked hard to run the produce stand, build garden beds, and cook pumpkin bars from all natural organic ingredients. It served as a great teaching tool and passerby LCSC students, faculty, and staff were delighted by the fresh produce and efforts of the class. LC Service Corps provided staff, tents (it poured down rain), and reusable bags for those taking produce. It was an all-around successful event and LCSC is the healthier for it.

This Saturday, September 15, LCSC Community Warriors Volunteer Center is organizing activities for the 9/11 Day of Remembrance. On 9/11 and the days surrounding it, thousands of people across the country are volunteering, giving back in their communities to commemorate the lives of the victims and heroes of the 9/11 attacks.

On Saturday, starting at 9:00 a.m., volunteers are needed at Modie Park, next to the Osborne Community Gardens. Volunteers will be cleaning and doing maintenance on the outside grounds of the Osborne Interpretive Center. This will entail weeding, raking, etc. You are asked to bring your own set of gardening gloves. Members of the LCSC baseball team and Veterans Club will be among those volunteering for the project.

In addition, baseball players will be helping to reroof the Habitat for Humanity Store in Lewiston, but no additional volunteers are needed for that project.

The Habitat for Humanity project is being organized by the Community Warriors Volunteer Center and the Modie Park project is being organized by the Community Warriors Volunteer Center in conjunction with the WA-ID Volunteer Center.

For more information please contact Alicia Reddy at or


Here are some pictures from Residence Life’s annual Saturday of Service event where students gave back to the valley through a variety of service projects ranging from washing cars and painting classrooms at Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Center and sorting clothes at St.Vincent De Paul to Helping out at Hot August Nights. Due to the student’s hard work and commitment a lot was accomplished and the day was a great success! Thanks again LCSC Residence Life for putting on such a great day of service!

SAT Meeting Minutes 8/23/2012
In Attendance (9):
Greg Meyer Alicia Reddy Matt Graves Sarah Reaves (for Savannah)
Charlette Kremer Jeanette Gara Kathy Martin Angela Weiland Thomas Walker

Positive things we are doing at LCSC!
• Switching the lights in the gym to more energy efficient bulbs, good work Matt!
• We are working on how to switch to single stream recycling. This would require each building to have a recycling person to be responsible for taking it to the designated recycling areas, and needs to be further developed.

Meeting Notes
• Sodexo: We need to put something in the pathfinder and intraner about the reusable food containers. Sidenote: we had the reusable containers at the Welcome Fair and they were well received! We want to advertise to faculty as well so PSO and CSO faculty avenues need to be looked into.
• Unfortunately due to an asbestos issue and other construction related problems the learning garden is still on hold. Best case scenario is looking like this Spring Semester.
• We discussed the different plots (there are 6) because Thomas Walker is using one for the garden and Matt Graves would like one for an orchard. There needs to be further discussion on how to best utilize this space without conflict or compromising the current mission of using it for educational purposes. It was brought up to establish a person or committee to potentially oversee this. Additionally, In the future there could be issues and because it may not be permanent it might be smart to create a proposal of some kind in order to ensure its long term success.
• Because Matt has to listen to grievances about a bunch of the sustainable movements on campus due to people finding them aesthetically unpleasant, education and understanding need to be raised. We might want to look into a promotional campaign to get students and faculty to see the benefits of these projects such as the wildflowers on campus.
• We decided the petition should be student read, and Alicia will look into a student group who might be interested in picking it up.
• Looking into further developing recycling on campus, need to come up with the best way to do this?

• I will be sending out a doodle to figure out when SAT meetings fit into everyone’s schedules so stay tuned.

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