2012 Empathy Year in Review: Education and Research

2012 was a busy year for conferences, research, analysis, and discovery on the benefits and uses of compassion, empathy and mindfulness. Here are a few of the many from the past year:

Academia, Research & Conferences

The Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference took place at the end of November in London, and the Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions conference took place in July at Standford University in California.

Organizations in academic institutions are pushing forward research: check out the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and the The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Standford University.

Institution-based researchers revealed findings of several studies this year, like a new model of mindfulness from Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Mind and Life Institute, published in the October 25, 2012 issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. This report concluded that, “achieving mindfulness through meditation has helped people maintain a healthy mind by quelling negative emotions and thoughts, such as desire, anger and anxiety, and encouraging more positive dispositions such as compassion, empathy and forgiveness.”

A team at Emory University developed and tested a form of meditation called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training. The participants who had practiced eight weeks of this meditation showed improved “empathic accuracy.”

There’s even Empathica, a software program designed at the University of Waterloo to help people understand and resolve conflicts: http://cogsci.uwaterloo.ca/empathica.html

NGOs and Think Tanks

NGOs like Ashoka launched Start Empathy and the Charter for Compassion both have programs in schools that aim to teach young people to grow up with a sense of interconnectedness.

Research-based organizations are tuning in to nonviolence and compassion as a strategy to reduce violence. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict released a report on the political and civil effects of strategies of nonviolence, and a NIMBioS study found that bullying was dramatically reduced when bystanders intervene. “Rooted in an empathic bond between two people…compassion felt for one person is extended to another person, giving an example of how the experience of compassion toward a single individual shapes our actions toward others.” [source]

Business & Organizations

Management executives, like LinkedIn’s CEO, and business analysts alike have begun talking about compassion, empathy and mindfulness, linking it to productivity and life-work balancing technologies like Social Design. Forbes reported on the “unique state [of Compassionate Communication] —free from conflict and distrust—we can communicate more effectively, listen more deeply, collaborate without effort, and succeed more quickly at any task.”


Along with many blog and newspaper articles about the benefits of empathy for healthcare professionals, 2012 saw the development of an the Arnold P Gold Foundation, an institute for research on humanism in medicine, encouraging the development of physicians who combine the high tech skills of cutting-edge medical science with the high touch skills of communication, empathy and compassion.

A program addressing Compassion Fatigue: Practical Applications for Nursing Professionals was developed by Betsy Murphy at Saybrook University.


Major media outlets like the Huffington Post have been reporting on empathy regularly. Taking Our Places, an NVC Parenting film is in the works, and filmmaker Kurt Engfehr has teamed with a crew of Australian film-makers to create a new feature documentary, Stand In My Shoes. It is based on the ‘empathy deficit’, a term coined by President Obama [which we enjoy!], cautioning against the dangers of a world without empathy.

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