The Neural Basis of Pro-Sociality: An fMRI Study of Compassion

Summer 2009

Elizabeth Castle : Psychology

Mentor: Dacher Keltner, Psychology

My current research takes advantage of the empathic, approach-oriented facets of compassion to investigate the broader concept of prosociality. My SURF project explores the neural basis of prosocial emotion by examining individual differences in dispositional traits in context of both central (with functional brain imaging) and peripheral (with measurements of vagus nerve activity) nervous system response to compassion inducing stimuli. The ultimate goal of my research is to identify both the dispositional traits that influence compassion, and the physiological factors that support prosocial behavior, and study how impaired compassion can affect healthy social interaction.

I have been involved in several psychology and neuroscience labs around campus the past couple years and have helped graduate students, post docs, and professors with their research along every stage from data collection to submitting papers for publication. Through this process, I have discovered that research is my passion. The SURF award has given me the chance to engage in my own independent research, which is a rare opportunity for an undergraduate student. I want to go to graduate school for my Phd in affective neuroscience, and my long term aim is to be a professor at a research university. Conducting my own independent research project is the first step in this process and I feel so fortunate to have been provided this opportunity!