What Social Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Hesed

What Social Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Hesed

With the difficult past year we have faced, there have been many moments that call for our empathy and for our compassion. But it’s difficult to keep that up for long periods of time, especially if we are balancing care for others with our own personal difficulties. Could this “compassion fatigue” be a limit on human kindness? Quite to the contrary, neuroscientists have found. Researchers like Professor Alfred Kaszniak have demonstrated how we can draw a distinction between compassion and its companion emotion, empathy. Compassion might be easier than it looks; empathy, feeling others’ emotions as our own, composes an important component of it, but also can overpower it. Accounting for how our minds and bodies sync up during moments of care and concern, then, help us understand how we can perform hesed – acts of loving-kindness.

Dr. Alfred Kaszniak is a Professor of Psychology, Neurology, and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona. He is currently Director of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium Education Core, Director of the Neuropsychology, Emotion, and Meditation Laboratory, Faculty and Advisory Board member of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. He is the co-author or editor of seven books, including the three-volume Toward a Science of Consciousness (MIT Press), and Emotions, Qualia, and Consciousness (World Scientific). His research, published in over 155 journal articles and scholarly book chapters, has been supported by grants from the U.S. National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, and National Science Foundation, as well as several private foundations and institutes. His work has focused on the neuropsychology of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurological disorders, cognition and emotion in healthy aging, consciousness, memory self-monitoring, emotion, and the psychophysiology of long-term and short-term meditation.


(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This was an online adult education event co-hosted by Valley Beit Midrash and Temple Chai on April 26, 2021).


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