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Empathy: Nature and Nurture

Psychologist Prof. Dr. Ariel Knafo-Noam from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will talk about the roots of human empathy.
Why do we care for others? And why are some individuals more compassionate than others? Empathy, the ability to perceive and be sensitive to the emotional states of others, coupled with a motivation to care for their wellbeing, is increasingly understood as emerging early in development. Despite this early emergence, empathy continues to develop across childhood and into adolescence. In addition, although empathy can be seen as indispensable for adaptive social behavior, stable and consistent individual differences in empathy exist. I discuss the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in cognitive and affective empathy, using data from our longitudinal twin study. A study of infants' reactions to an individual in pain exemplifies the natural basis of empathy as well as the way maturation modulates empathy development.
Ariel Knafo-Noam is professor of developmental psychology and director of the Laboratory of Social Development at the Psychology Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is interested in all potential influences on individual differences in social behavior and values. He has been studying the development of altruism, empathy and other aspects of prosociality. For that matter, he studies the genetic, environmental and combined contributions to prosocial behavior, using questionnaire, experimental and observational designs.
He also investigates how values develop across contexts, cultures, and families, looking also at genetic influence on values. Another line of research studies concerns parent-child as well as child-parent influences, and in particular how children's genetics affect their own temperament and how parents react to them. The complex pattern of parent-child and genetic-environmental reciprocal or circular influences is studied with a twin study as well as with a study following families from pregnancy to children’s age 5. Recently he has co-edited three special sections, on prosocial development (Child Development), on value development (Social Development), and on children’s influence (Development and Psychopathology). He holds a PhD in psychology from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Before returning to The Hebrew University, he had a postdoctoral Kreitman fellowship in educational psychology at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and a postdoctoral fellowship in behavior genetics at the Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. He is a founding member of the Young Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The talk takes place on Monday the 11th of June at 17.15 Uhr in HS 5 (GeiWi-Turm, Innrain 52f).

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