Course Spotlight: The Science of Compassion
March 27, 2023
By J. Charlotte Jarrett ’08
In this 300-level psychology course, students gain a vital understanding of compassion and how it drives human interaction.
Students in psychology professor Stacey Dunn’s The Science of Compassion course apply what they learn through meditation, journaling, and review of scientific literature to become more effective both at home with their families and as leaders in the workplace. Students leave the course well equipped with the skills to change not only their own lives, but everyone they meet, proving the point that compassion really is contagious.
Stacey Dunn, professor of psychology
This seminar-style course explores the scientific perspective on how compassion develops and affects the brain, health, relationships, and society. Through a variety of in-class experiences, exercises and meditations, students learn methods to cultivate compassion within themselves and others. Covering everything from what defines compassion and how it is measured to the obstacles and fears that get in the way of true empathy, the class concludes with how compassion science can be applied to vital fields like education and health care.
Each session begins with a moment to get centered—students take a few deep breaths, release tension, and focus their attention in the present. Dunn checks in with each student and invites them to share from their compassion journals if they’re comfortable.
Class time is then largely spent in review of the reading, discussing key points either in small groups or as a whole. As comes naturally to the subject matter, the course fosters an open, supportive learning environment that facilitates sharing. Many weeks, students are assigned “compassion challenges” that are tied to the course content and deepen the learning experience.
The final portion of class sessions consists of a meditation, an essential part of compassion-cultivation training. With lowered lights, relaxing music, and a 10-minute guided reflection, students express compassion for themselves, loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, and all humankind.
At Rollins, students have the unique advantage of taking niche courses in small class settings designed around discussion and collaboration, with the option of a hybrid environment. In The Science of Compassion, students have takeaways that forever change their success in group dynamics and leadership—whether preparing them to pursue graduate education in psychology and related fields or to succeed in thriving industries.
“This class has been so beneficial for me, and I’ve really been able to apply the concepts to my academic and professional life,” says Greta Rohrer ’23 ’25MPH, who plans to pursue occupational therapy. “The assignments allowed for introspection and have increased my ability to recognize compassion in myself and others. I’m now able to view compassion in a different way and see what an important role it can play in a healthy society.”
Did You Know?
Dunn is a licensed clinical psychologist who has a front-row seat to the challenges that make life difficult as well as the strategies that promote human flourishing. Based on course reviews, students are not only better understanding this psychological science, but they’re also applying the concepts successfully for a better life.
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