My Philanthropy Research Interest

My Philanthropy Research Interest

There are so many angles to explore in the study of philanthropy. Colleagues at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy look at the nonprofit sector from many perspectives including its role alongside the government and corporate sectors and specific, unique elements or challenges faced by organizations and service providers. My interest is in the behavioral psychology behind the motivation for giving. Many researchers are looking at empathy from various angles. An amazing site out of Berkeley (founded by one of the leaders in empathy and love studies, Dr. Dacher Keltner) collects related scholarship from around the world. Sign up for their newsletter and have interesting news delivered right to your inbox 

I have a background in libraries. I’m not a librarian though a junior college in Mississippi once hired me as one. Apparently I aced the interview probably because I’ve spent so much time around librarians. (And because of the Mississippi joke that just popped into your head.) Mostly I’ve fund-raised for libraries, but Library/Information Science is my minor study in the PhD program in Philanthropic Studies. My research interest combines philanthropy and libraries. I am studying the role of information overload in the dramatic decline in empathy scores measured in college freshman over the years. There is some really good data to work with on this question that measures empathy of college students since the 1970’s.

Scholars are looking into all kinds of reasons for the drop. Psychology Today has been publishing stories about this research for years, and many articles are available in their archive. If you are up for the real research that informs the media coverage, look for studies conducted by de Waal, Batson and Konrath.

Having worked in library world for many years, I’ve learned about information literacy which a form of “literacy” that is not about knowing how to read but “knowing how to read” information, collections of information and collections of data. For example, information literacy is what keeps you from falling for fake news 😉 Unfortunately information literacy is very low. That leads to getting bad information, sharing bad information, getting overwhelmed by more information than you can possibly read or more data can you know what to do with. I’m curious about whether the condition of Information Overload (a real condition) is part of the drop in empathy. In other words, are we so inundated by information – what we choose (like social media feeds we look at constantly) and what we don’t (like headlines thrust at us everywhere we go) – that it literally makes us stop caring?

My first task towards this long inquiry is reading everything that’s already been published about empathy and information overload. I spent several months doing that last fall and actually experienced it, for myself. FOR REAL. What I’m doing now is focusing on anthropological theory looking for the “right” theory about culture that will ground my discussion.

Back to the books…