Breaking Stigma: Your Brain on Empathy

The stigma of disability can be as disabling as the condition itself. It thwarts people from realizing their potential and poses chronic barriers to inclusivity. Overcoming prejudice is the first step to beating the discrimination that people living with disability all too often face, with consequences ranging from poor healthcare, employment challenges and restricted community access, to the erosion of human rights, psychological damage and abuse. Efforts to surmount social bias must also recognize insidious factors such as self-stigma.

Despite the global prevalence of mental illness, negative attitudes toward affected individuals remain the most tenacious of all. The resulting stresses and fears can threaten one’s productivity, or can even threaten a life. This detrimental status quo is enabled by the dominance of physical health as a priority, and it will persist as long as mind-body dualism continues to plague healthcare in so many parts of the world.

Which policies and protections must be put in place to ensure disability rights across the physical, cognitive and psychological landscape? Diving deeper, what are the innate processes that lead to discriminatory behavior against people with disability in the first place? To surmount this divisive behavior is to dismantle the mental rig fueling conflict in heterogeneous society.

In 2017, we are planning on hosting a first ever Neuroscience Forum. We will take a bold look at what neuroscience has to teach us about the mechanisms that make us care about others—or not. Our exploration will be informed by groundbreaking research on the so-called “empathy gap” between in-groups and out-groups, or how our minds build social distinctions. As we hack into the neural markers of prejudice, we will also probe ways to break them down, change minds and drive social change. What is the transformative power of storytelling, and specifically, how can filmed narrative provide Rx for intolerance? When does assuming the perspective of others lead to a desire to help, and when does it induce aversive stress? A key focus of this bracing ideas exchange will be the question of how human bias can be channeled into empathic concern and positive social change for people with disabilities and for all  who are marginalized by societal barriers.

The team is seeking provocative angles on the following topics of inquiry:

  • How neuroscience can erode pathways of prejudice and stimulate empathy;
  • The difference between empathic concern and stress-based concern in predicting the capacity to help;
  • The role of social psychology and neuroscience in reducing discrimination and stigma;
  • Best practices for harmonizing intergroup relations;
  • Best practices for reducing discrimination against other social groups;
  • Successful approaches for acknowledging problems as a springboard to guidelines for productive discourse about bias;
  • Moving from a paradigm of combativeness to a paradigm of enlightenment in countering stigma and discrimination;
  • Best practices for moving from a dualistic model of mental and physical healthcare to an integrated care approach;
  • Current research on bias theories and their practical applications in real life settings;
  • Innovative advocacy efforts to mitigate bias, hate and discrimination locally, regionally and nationally.

If you have a proposal that may not fit in to the above targets, we will welcome them as part of our discussion. We welcome proposals in any presentation format and are especially keen on skills building workshops on implicit bias, and those that enhance  leadership and capacity building skills for communities and the workplace.

Please see presentation formats on our webpage at http://www.pacrim.hawaii.edu/presenters/formats. Please check the criteria for each format and ensure that you have the appropriate number of presenters for your chosen format. You may submit proposals online at: http://www.pacrim.hawaii.edu/submissions or send your proposals via email to prcall@hawaii.edu.

For more information about this topic area, contact Laura Blum, laurablu@hawaii.edu or Charmaine Crockett at cccrocke@hawaii.edu. For general information on the conference, please contact Charmaine Crockett at cccrocke@hawaii.edu, (808) 956-7539. For registration questions please contact the registration desk at (808) 956-8816, fax (808) 956-4437 or email prreg@hawaii.edu.