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IU Professor Receives Grant To Study Empathy

A grant has been awarded to a team of Indiana University researchers to study empathy.  Leading the project is Richard Miller, Director of IU’s Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions.

“[The University of] Chicago announced that it was sponsoring a competition in the topic or under the rubric of what is called the new science of the virtues,” Miller said. “And they were seeking proposals that bridged the sciences and the humanities.”

Including experts in disciplines from religion to psychology, Miller’s group of researchers fit the bill and was one of only 19 grant winners.  Miller said the idea for studying empathy came in part from what President Obama has called the “empathy deficit”.  He said The President frequently used the term on the campaign trail and more recently when talking about qualities needed in Supreme Court Justices.

“That sparked interest in the idea that empathy may be a morally desirable trait but it’s unclear what it is and many ways Obama was using it in a very folklore-ish sense: identifying with someone else, trying to put oneself in another person’s shoes.  That gave us a kind of cultural marker,” Miller said.

What exactly empathy is, how it’s quantified, and how to cultivate it are only a few questions the team intends to address. The two-year grant is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the University of Chicago. However, the grant will not cover all of the IU researchers’ expenses — Miller projects the overall cost of his project to be around $285,000.

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