Experimental psychologist to deliver March 23 Expanding Empathy lecture

March 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The fourth of the six talks in the 2021 Expanding Empathy lecture series is scheduled for Tuesday, March 23, with Lasana Harris, associate professor in experimental psychology at University College London, presenting.

The topic of Harris’s lecture, which is being delivered as a Zoom webinar at 12:30 p.m. EDT, is “Flexible Social Cognition as a Proactive Empathy Regulation Strategy.”

Admission is free, but pre-registration is required.

"In the first three talks of this year’s Expanding Empathy series, we have examined how people manage empathy with respect to a wide variety of entities, whether that be robots, close vs. distant others, or animals,” said C. Daryl Cameron, convener of the Rock Ethics Institute’s Moral Agency and Moral Development Initiative. “A common emerging theme across these talks is that people can regulate themselves in different ways depending on their needs and who the targets of empathy are.”

“In this next talk,” Cameron continued, “Dr. Lasana Harris will discuss his work on how people regulate empathy and engage in dehumanization of stigmatized out-groups, which draws upon methods from psychology and neuroscience.”

In the abstract for his lecture, Harris writes: Lay opinions of empathy surround its benefits, motivating pro-social behavior, promoting human connection, and relieving human suffering. However, empathy appears a curse of contradictions: useful for the target, but harmful to the perceiver given the experience of empathy is unpleasant. 

“It is important to remove valence from psychological concepts,” Harris says. “All psychology can be used for good or evil, but recognizing the psychological process as a process will help us promote concepts like empathy when they are needed, and regulate them when their presence causes harm”

Harris and Cameron also will be holding an informal meet-and-greet from 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. EDT, just before the lecture. Anyone interested in joining that session can reach out directly to Daryl Cameron for more information.

All of the Expanding Empathy lectures are aimed toward a broad, interdisciplinary audience, and they are open to faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and the public.

After Harris speaks, the remaining lectures in the 2021 Expanding Empathy series are:

  • March 31, “For Better or Worse: The Role of Social Identity in the Pandemic,” presented by Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology, NYU
  • April 7, “Switching Tracks? A Two-Dimensional Model of Utilitarian Psychology,” presented by Jim A.C. Everett, lecturer (assistant professor), University of Kent

Past years’ presentations in the Expanding Empathy lecture series are available here.

The series is supported by Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts and College of Health and Human Development, as well as the Department of Psychology, the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, and the Penn State University Libraries.

As part of his broader research and outreach on empathy and generosity, series organizer Daryl Cameron is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Established in 2001 through the support of Doug and Julie Rock, the Rock Ethics Institute promotes engaged ethics research and ethical leadership from its home in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.


  • Image of Lasana Harris

    Lasana Harris
    Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology
    University College London

    IMAGE: Lasana Harris
Last Updated March 29, 2021