The Helix Center for Interdisciplinary Investigation
Altruism and Empathy
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Participants include Stephanie Brown, Lisa Cataldo, Alan Leslie and Wynn Schwartz.
New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute
247 East 82nd Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
The Marianne & Nicholas Young Auditorium
Is selflessness a necessary illusion? Are we condemned to weigh the costs (whether consciously or not) of the welfare of others against the benefits to ourselves? We develop a "theory of mind" around age three, concurrently building our capacity to recognize emotions experienced by others. In other words, we begin to develop empathy, the sine qua non of compassion, and hence, of altruism. But if altruism is evolutionarily adaptive, as many believe, can it be unadulterated by self-interest? Or might acts of altruism truly reveal "the better angels of our nature"?
STEPHANIE BROWN is an Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at SUNY Stony Brook and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Dr. Brown’s research currently focuses on the neuro-affective mechanisms underlying altruistic and prosocial behavior. She examines (a) the role that other-focused motivational states play in stress regulation (b) the implications of helping-induced stress-regulation for physical health and longevity and (c) the contribution of other-focused motivational states and behaviors to the darker side of human experience including depression, suicidality, and PTSD. These lines of research are designed to shed light into the mechanisms underlying a caregiving motivational system, including its evolutionary origins and its implications for compassionate care, medicine, economic behavior, ethnic and international conflict, and other political attitudes and behaviors.
LISA CALTADO is an Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at the Fordham University Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, where she directs the Clinical Program and teaches courses in Clinical Practice, Professional Ethics, Psychology and Religion, and Trauma. She is a licensed psychoanalyst, and is a supervisor and faculty member at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies and the Stephen A. Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. As a psychoanalyst and student of many of the worlds religions, Dr. Cataldo's research explores the intersection of psychoanalytic psychology and religion/spirituality, including issues of intersubjectivity, multiplicity, and identity as they relate to religious or spiritual life. Most recently, her work has focused on the effects of early trauma and dissociation on the development of God-images and the life of faith. Her writing and research are focused on practice, with the aim of helping clinicians understand the religious or spiritual lives of patients and the ways to approach these issues in the therapeutic setting.
ALAN LESLIE is a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, where he directs the Cognitive Development Laboratory. A Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Professor Leslie investigates the developmental neurocognitive mechanisms and domain-specialized learning involved in abstract ideation emerging early in life such as cause and effect, enduring object, one, two, three, social agent, believing, pretending, desiring, purpose, and moral transgression. One of the principal authors of the research that discovered the 'theory of mind' impairment in autism, he also continues to study children with autistic spectrum disorder.
WYNN SCHWARTZ is a clinical psychologist and research psychoanalyst on the core faculty of The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and The Harvard Extension School. He is a coeditor of Advances in Descriptive Psychology. He has been a professor at Wellesley College and has taught at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis. His empirical research has focused on dreaming, memory and problem representation, and on hypnosis and episodic memory. As a student of Descriptive Psychology, Dr. Schwartz has been especially interested in theory-free, pre-empirical formulations of action and responsibility, the concept of hypnosis, the status dynamics of psychotherapy and supervision, and the parameters of empathic action. Currently, he is exploring liberation, improvisation and play, and the behavioral logic of social progress and reaction. He maintains a psychotherapy and supervision practice in Boston where he works with individuals and couples.
After attending, participants will gain a greater appreciation and knowledge of the psychological and neurocognitive dimensions of empathy and altruism, their role in development and adult life, and their clinical and research implications.