Susan Lanzoni, "Empathy + Design"


This lecture will reveal the fascinating and largely unknown story of the first appearance of empathy in 1908 and will track its shifting meanings over the following century. Despite the word’s ubiquity today, few realize that it began as a translation of Einfühlung (“in-feeling”), a term in German psychological aesthetics that described how spectators projected their own feelings and movements into objects of art and nature. Remarkably, this early conception of empathy transformed into its opposite over the ensuing decades. Social scientists and clinical psychologists refashioned empathy to require the deliberate putting aside of one’s feelings to more accurately understand another’s. By the end of World War II, interpersonal empathy entered the mainstream, appearing in advice columns, popular radio and TV, and later in public forums on civil rights. Even as neuroscientists continue to map the brain correlates of empathy, its many dimensions still elude strict scientific description. This talk will uncover empathy’s historical layers, offering a rich portrait of the tension between the reach of one’s own imagination and the realities of others’ experiences.

About Susan


Susan Lanzoni is an historian of psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience, and teaches at Harvard University’s School of Continuing Education. She received her PhD in the history of science at Harvard University, focusing on the history of the mind sciences and modern intellectual history. She taught at Yale University in their History of Medicine program for two years. She has received a Fulbright Grant, and a two-year National Science Foundation Scholar’s Award to conduct research for her book, Empathy: A History, which appeared in September, 2018. 


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