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Author and researcher Dacher Keltner to speak on the science of a meaningful life Feb. 25

The 'Born to be Good' author was a consultant on the Disney/Pixar film 'Inside Out.'

Dacher Keltner image
Dacher Keltner, University of California-Berkeley professor, author, and emotion researcher will speak at the upcoming JUF Agency Board Members and Non-Profit Professionals Dinner.

Human beings are hardwired for good, contends Dacher Keltner, author of the bestseller Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Armed with scientific evidence, he contends that kindness is the key for the survival of humanity.

Keltner will speak at the Jewish United Fund Agency Board Members & Non-Profit Professionals Dinner on Thursday, Feb. 25, at The Hyatt Regency Crystal Ballroom, 151 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago. The event begins at 5:30 p.m., and dietary laws will be observed. Reservations are required and may be made online at There is no charge to attend; however, a gift to the 2016 Jewish United Fund Annual Campaign is encouraged. 

Keltner is a Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab, and faculty director of the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. His decades of research focus on the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, awe, love, and beauty, as well as power, social class, and inequality. 

Most recently, Keltner was the scientific consultant for Pixar's highly acclaimed film Inside Out , which features emotions as its main characters: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Sadness becomes the hero of the story-a perspective supported by his research.

"[Sadness] probably begins in early attachment dynamics between parent and child," he said. "Sadness and crying bring people closer. That's massively important for a young baby and it's important for adults as well. When we need assistance, sadness triggers assistance [behavior] in others."

This message may be of interest to people in the non-profit sector, especially those who work directly with people experiencing emotional distress. "What's relevant is that when you're responding to people suffering, you're dealing with the harder stuff," he said. "The challenge is to remember the greater good you are doing with your work…I will be addressing some practical tools for managing that kind of stress."

His interest in studying emotions developed early in his career. "I started my work on the hypothesis that humans have a lot of good in them," he said. "I was reading about anger and fear and how they were the core substance of the human mind. I thought…there is a lot more to emotional life than anger and fear." 

He discovered the science-based foundation for his research in the work of Paul Ekman, who pioneered the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions.

"We have powerful ancient tendencies to share and cooperate, to take care of people in need, and to reconcile conflict. It gets us out of this paradigm that we've been dominated by [in the past] that humans are just greedy and selfish. That's a cynical view of human nature. 

"Humans have to cooperate to survive. We have to share resources, we have to collaborate. When you study hunter-gatherer societies, you learn it really is survival of the kindest," Keltner said. "The challenge is how do we create societies and neighborhoods and schools that bring out those tendencies?"

He said his research takes a scientific evolutionary approach to neurological development. "Our babies are born hyper-vulnerable," he said. "We needed to take care of them or [they would] die." People's consistent physical responses to certain emotions demonstrate that the human nervous system adapted to requiring cooperation, empathy, and altruism to ensure survival of the species. 

Keltner has published over 190 scientific articles, is the co-author of two textbooks, and is author of The Compassionate Instinct . He has twice presented his research to the Dalai Lama as part of a continuing dialogue between the Dalai Lama and scientists, and he has received outstanding teacher and research mentor awards from UC Berkeley. His forthcoming book, The Power Paradox (Penguin) will be released in May.

For more information on the JUF Agency Board and Non-Profit Professionals Dinner, contact Mindy Bass at 312-444-2839

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