The Kind Brain: Empathic concern motivates altruism

Why do we self-sacrifice to help others in distress? Recent brain imaging research suggests people do it for others, and not for themselves. Empathic concern motivates costly altruism. When given an opportunity to exercise altruism, brain regions for promoting social attachment and caregiving, rather than those for situational aversion.

In other words, “I want to help” trumps “I don’t want to see that.”


Why do we self-sacrifice to help others in distress? Two competing theories have emerged, one suggesting that prosocial behavior is primarily motivated by feelings of empathic other-oriented concern, the other that we help mainly because we are egoistically focused on reducing our own discomfort. Here we explore the relationship between costly altruism and these two sub-processes of empathy, specifically drawing on the caregiving model to test the theory that trait empathic concern (e.g. general tendency to have sympathy for another) and trait personal distress (e.g. predisposition to experiencing aversive arousal states) may differentially drive altruistic behavior. We find that trait empathic concern – and not trait personal distress – motivates costly altruism, and this relationship is supported by activity in the ventral tegmental area, caudate and subgenual anterior cingulate, key regions for promoting social attachment and caregiving. Together, this data helps identify the behavioral and neural mechanisms motivating costly altruism, while demonstrating that individual differences in empathic concern-related brain responses can predict real prosocial choice.

Source: Empathic concern drives costly altruism, NeuroImage, 01/15/2015

A Kind Approach To Unnecessary Apologies

Kindness Communication Media Mention

Quoted in “Stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ at work,”, 2015-04-25

Christopher G. Fox, founder of Kindness Communication, a new venture focusing on promoting kindness to achieve better results and greater focus in organizations, says that to stop the habit, you need to first be cognizant of it happening, and second, imagine yourself not saying it.

“If you know the topic of discussion in advance, rehearse stating your position without saying sorry a few times; say it out loud to yourself in the mirror at home the night before,” he suggests. “Finally, if you have a good ally in the mix often, ask her or him to be your ‘sorry buddy’ and point out to you after the fact that you’ve said it. It’s not just useful feedback afterwards. It also helps you feel accountable in the moment.”

A Kind Approach To Giving Staff Direction

Kindness Communication Media Mention

Quoted in “23 Ways to Create a Better Work Environment,” Business News Daily, 2015-04-23

Rephrase instructions.

“Replace ‘You should’ with ‘Let’s’ when giving direction to staff who report to you and to your peers. It’s a simple but effective way to create a sense of shared mission. It works everywhere from big strategic plans to small projects. Once you create that mind-set, you can break the mission down into specific tasks and make it clear who is accountable for what. The result is a better, more engaged environment.” – Christopher G. Fox, founder, Kindness Communication

Empathy, Well-Being, and Community

Evidence for the value of kindness is mounting. Not simply data, some of which has been available for quite a while, but awareness.

“At both the individual and national levels, all measures of well-being, including emotions and life evaluations, are strongly influenced by the quality of the surrounding social norms and institutions. These include family and friendships at the individual level, the presence of trust and empathy at the neighborhood and community levels, and power and quality of the over- arching social norms that determine the quality of life within and among nations and generations. When these social factors are well-rooted and readily available, communities and nations are more resilient, and even natural disasters can add strength to the community as it comes together in response.”

From World Happiness Report, “Summary

Truth, Trust, and Kindness

Truth, Trust, and Kindness

“Leadership today is all about two words: It’s all about truth and trust.” – Jack Welch (source)

But then where does trust come from? Ultimately, from kindness.

A 10-point Guide For One-on-One Kindness

One-on-one kindness is one of the seven dimensions of kindness.

  1. One-on-one interactions drive business results: you and a teammate, you and a manager, you and a customer, you and a stakeholder.
  2. You can set the tone.
  3. Assuming another person’s best intentions usually gets you the best results.
  4. Conduct yourself gratefully and gracefully.
  5. Everyone has their own circumstances, and everyone has a hard day sometimes.
  6. When in doubt, pause.
  7. Frame unmet expectations in terms of shared results instead of personal disappointment.
  8. Be happy every time you see people, because you are going to get something accomplished together.
  9. When you have to, apologize and forgive, and mean it.
  10. Over time, small kindnesses build a solid foundation of trust that outlives individual interactions.

Values and Kindness

“Importance” is fueled by others and what one does to increase it. “Self-worth” comes from within and is sustained by oneself. While the behaviors that issue from each may seem similar on their surface, the difference emerges with just the merest scratch.

In other words, you cultivate your values when you are kind to yourself. Values and kindness go hand in hand.

A Kind Tip For Better Emailing

Try this one tip for better email results.

In business email exchanges, always assume your recipient has the best intentions, whether you’re initiating the discussion or replying. It’s a matter of trust.

This is how people miss the mark about the common concern that emails do not convey tone well. Your hidden assumptions actually do come across, and your recipient will pick up on them.

If you assume conflict or difficulty when you are writing, or assume negativity when you are replying, those assumptions come out between the lines of what you say. But, managing your assumptions improves the professionalism and collegiality of your emails, and creates an undertone of trust that fosters positive dialogue.

Try it for a week, and see how much more constructive your emailing can be!

Günter Grass on Work, Leisure, and the Tyranny of “Busy”

“If work and leisure are soon to be subordinated to this one utopian principle – absolute busyness – then utopia and melancholy will come to coincide: an age without conflict will dawn, perpetually busy – and without consciousness.”

―Günter Grass, From the Diary of a Snail, 1972 (photo credit: AP Photo/Jens Meyer)