Annual compassion lecture focused on the need for self-care in challenging times

April 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sona Dimidjian, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, presented the fourth annual Lecture on Compassion, “Expanding Compassion: Reflections on our Research, Practice, and Lives,” to more than 100 researchers and community members on April 4 at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, on the University Park campus. Her talk addressed how we can most effectively study and practice compassion in a way that promotes individual healing and social change.

Dimidjian emphasized that one person can change ten people, and those ten people can change 100 people, and so on until 100,000 people have been affected. She told the audience that they could “be that one” who sparks the change that reaches 100,000 others.

However, overexposure to the suffering of others without training in how to respond to such suffering may make us less empathetic, said Dimidjian.

She described a recent study in which she and fellow research collaborators tested whether people would demonstrate greater levels of compassion in response to images and stories of people suffering after receiving four weeks of compassion meditation training. The group receiving the training was compared to two control groups. One control group received repeated exposure to the images and stories, and the other control group used an oxytocin nasal spray, intended to serve as a placebo "intervention."

All groups were asked questions about how they felt and how they thought about the suffering others. The study found that the group who practiced meditation had significantly more positive responses to the suffering of others, and was also more likely to donate their research compensation to charity than the repeated exposure group.

Regular self-care, particularly for those who care for others, was a focal point of Dimdjian’s lecture.

“I want to say to all of us, and a reminder to myself, that the work we’re doing, this work of partnering and bridging this gap in mental health care has never been more important or timely," she said. "But it’s also really, really hard work, and it’s critical that we remember ways in which the weight of this work can be heavy on our shoulders.”

Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Caring and Compassion and the event organizer, said that “compassion is the heart of prevention and intervention in human development. It is an active ingredient facilitating the care we extend to others who suffer, and also the antidote the one who is suffering is seeking.”

The College of Health and Human Development and the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center host the annual event. For more information on the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, visit prevention.psu.edu.

Last Updated May 02, 2019