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Richard Davidson is a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he has studied emotion and the brain for the past 35 years. Davidson’s work focuses on happiness and compassion being learned much like any other skill. He’ll be speaking at the Festival of Faiths on Saturday. I spoke with him about his work. You can listen to our conversation in the audio player above.

On how his research began:

“Our central interest is really in the promotion of well being. How we can harness the intrinsic capacity that every human being shares and nurture those capacities to really promote well being. To promote qualities like kindness and compassion and equanimity and resilience we study what the brain mechanisms are that are associated with these and what might be effective strategies to enhance these qualities and we can think of them as skills that can actually be promoted through simple kinds of mental training.”

On quantifying kindness:

“We’ve spent a lot of time developing hard-nosed methods to study what some might think of as soft skills. We have behavioral tasks, we have measures of circuits in the brain that we can perform in the laboratory with magnetic resonance imaging and other modalities to interrogate the human brain and look at its function and structure. We also look at biological changes in the body because it turns out that the promotion of qualities like kindness and compassion don’t just effect the brain, they also effect the body in ways that are associated with better physical health.”

More information on the Festival of Faiths can be found here.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for WFPL News.