Augmenting Human Compassion: A Conceptual Framework
Augmenting Human Compassion:
A Conceptual Framework
RPI Master's Student - HCI
288 3rd St., Unit 215
ABSTRACT amplifying intelligence, we must become a more socially
This paper describes a framework for augmenting human responsible people. Luckily, the plasticity of our mental
compassion and the possible directions for research in this area architecture makes this a distinct, if not also necessary, possibility
with a focus on using interactive digital media. in human evolution.
While it was historically seen as the realm of parents and family
Categories and Subject Descriptors (in society at large) to instill compassion and empathy, several
H.5.1 [Multimedia Information Systems]: Evaluation and proponents have come to the fore regarding compassion
methodology. augmentation including the Dalai Lama, Lappé, and Ekman .
In starting the search for methods that augment human
General Terms compassion using digital means, many avenues present
Measurement, Documentation, Design, Experimentation, Human themselves.
Factors, Standardization, Theory.
2. DEVELOPING A FRAMEWORK
Keywords 2.1 Lexicon
Compassion augmentation, meta-mood, interactive digital media, The definition of compassion in our modern lexicon remains
interconnectivity. nebulous within the context of social interaction. Whether it is an
emotion, sentiment, or feeling has not yet been concretely
1. INTRODUCTION determined. Compassion requires a more stringent classification
In order to fully develop human potential, all resources available to include elements of behavior that compose compassion and
must be utilized to that end, including digital media. Licklider, scientific methods for measurement.
Ashby, and Engelbart have all written on the subject of In order to fully appreciate the nature and magnitude of these
augmenting or amplifying human intellect . Licklider (1960) possibilities, we must borrow from the lexicon of quantum
defined a concept called “man-computer symbiosis”, a system physics as well as the fields of mathematics, specifically complex
whereby humans and computers work in conjunction to “think as dynamics, and chemistry to allow for a more robust set of terms to
no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not describe intelligence and compassion augmentation. The initial
approached by the information-handling machines we know step of determining terminology is key because any further study
today”. Engelbart believed technology could augment human would require a sound grounding in what factors effect
intellect by developing “an integrated hierarchy of cooperative compassion levels and how they do so. Within the context of
mancomputer process capabilities.” This would “step-up” the interactive digital media, these factors may be counter-intuitive or
mental abilities of a person level by level to be able to handle may include non-trivial emergent properties. Having a more exact
more complex thought processes. He also explains that, “We refer vocabulary would undermine semantic ambiguity.
to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-
try, intangibles, and the human ‘feel for a situation’ usefully Some of the difficulty in soundly defining the concepts relevant to
coexist with powerful concepts, streamlined technologies and compassion augmentation stems from the family-only approach
notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic normally taken for the development of compassion in a child’s
aids”. life. It is often seen as the responsibility of parents and families to
engender this value. Beyond childhood, only societal norms act to
While some research and development in this field has discovered regulate compassion. The exact nature of compassion is also
methods for augmenting human intelligence as per the nebulous enough within our society as a whole to defy easy
recommendation and work of these visionaries, another facet of definition. Definitions for compassion describe a semantic range
our potential has been left behind due to a lack of clear and of possibilities including awareness (purely knowledge), an
concise quantifiable representation. This particular facet comes in emotion, or a feeling. Examples where the ambiguous language is
the form of developing compassion. As technology improves and most obvious include the chapter on The Nature of Compassion in
we find ourselves more capable of complex problem solving when the book Emotional Awareness, which is a conversation between
working in conjunction with these technologies, the emotional the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.
side of our development must also be addressed. Along with
As Ekman and the Dalai Lama discuss how compassion may or Then with these categories of engagement in place, testing the
may not be considered an emotion, the Dalai Lama explains, level of interaction versus the level of change or augmentation in
“Once the person experiences this heightened compassion, his or compassion becomes a matter of defining sound methodologies
her compassion retains that kind of tone throughout the day...” for measuring this state or meta-mood in a quantifiable manner.
Ekman argues against this by explaining that moods are transitory
and, therefore, compassion cannot be a mood or emotion.
However, taking the neurological definition of mood and emotion
into account, one could argue that a new term is required for
defining compassion in the sense of a long-term component of
one’s mental state.
One term that is used colloquially that comes to mind is nature.
However, nature has the connotation of being unchangeable and
fixed. For now, the term meta-mood will be used to describe
compassion, in that it is a sustained perceptual filter that governs
the overall level of compassion of an individual as well as the
level of spontaneity and unbiasedness related to prosocial actions
(kindness, sympathy, etc.). This definition is further explained in
section 3.1.3. In a similar lexical vein, creating a meta-mood
involves lowering the activation energy for a compassionate state. Figure 1. Compassion can also be seen as the result of care
Key ideas for further development include the following: and connectedness
What is compassion? Defined as meta-mood. Even with this grounding, there is still a gulf between science and
Creation thereof lowers the activation energy required for the humanities in terms of determining what components of a
prosocial behavior. human’s behavior can be effected by technology. However, the
overall process under review would be the following:
Emergent phenomena reveals multiple sources of influence for
this creation. 1) Exposure to stimulus (classified by valence and type of
Additionally, compassion augmentation represents a form of
“cognitive hybridization.” As defined by Andy Clark, “Some 2) Cognitive processing (conscious, subconscious, unconscious)
technologies constitute a cascade of mindware upgrades -
cognitive upheavals in which the effective architecture on the 3) Change to level of compassion (as a meta-mood, includes the
human mind is altered and transformed” . change to the activation energy required to enter a compassionate
2.2 Theoretical Grounding 4) Resultant action (prosocial behavior, including degree of
Using the precedents set by Emotional Design, as it has begun to spontaneity and unbiasedness)
see an upswing as a mainstream approach by realizing that
emotion does play a role in interaction, and Value-sensitive
Design, which also adds weight to the implications of interface 3. LITERATURE REVIEW
design, a Grounded Theory Approach with selective coding is 3.1 General Approaches
suggested for the initial development of this research framework. Reviewing current research into related topics, including
Following the format for research performed to augment human developing empathy in children, compassion meditation studies,
intellect, the objective of this study, which includes the previous and compassion fatigue psychometric testing, has revealed three
suppositions and conjectures, is as follows: (1) to discover the general approaches to testing for elements of the meta-mood
factors that determine a given individual’s level of compassion; compassion.
and (2) to develop methods that would act to augment human
compassion. Prosocial behavior then becomes the “evidence” of a 3.1.1 Cognitive/Physiological Analysis
compassionate state. Brave and Nass have indicated that the level of activity in the
limbic and cortical regions of the brain relate to an individual’s
In this specific case, the use of interactive digital media may empathic responses . In their work, Brave and Nass reveal the
provide an example for further study. With this approach we can underlying mechanisms of emotion with a figure that
use observational analysis to create conceptual categories to demonstrates the connections between the thalamus, the cortex,
define types of interaction with digital media as a first step to and the limbic system. The thalamic-limbic pathway is
gradually refine and reevaluate these connections in a more responsible for the primary emotions, while secondary emotions
formalized research setting. “result from activation of the limbic system by processing in the
The elements of engagement can be placed into the following cortex.”
categories: They then go on to cover the debate over whether or not emotion
1) perceptual/cognitive is innate or learned. Regarding this debate, Brave and Nass
2) physiological describe the middle of the two extremes where “the limbic system
is prewired to recognize the basic categories of emotion, but
3) conscious or reflective interaction social learning and higher cortical processes still play a significant
4) emergent/transcendent role in differentiation.”.
The experiment in the article entitled Regulation of the Neural measurements and a certain amount of self-reporting. Self-report
Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of measures, in particular, suffer from a problem with temporal
Meditative Expertise used functional magnetic resonance imaging relevance. Brave and Nass point out that “questionnaires are
(fMRI) to measure differences in brain activity between novice capable of measuring only the conscious experience of emotion
and experienced meditators, those having 10,000 plus hours of and mood. Much of affective processing, however, resides in the
Buddhist compassion mediation practice . This paper identifies limbic system and in nonconscious processes.”
activity in the limbic region associated with increased levels of The dimensional theories using arousal and valence were also
compassion in buddhist monks with over 10,000 hours of used during the Compassion Mediation study and with
compassion meditation practice. They were asked two alternate correlational results. This would support that for further research,
between actively generating a condition of compassion mediation where any self-reporting is necessary, compassion should be
and refraining from the practice. tested as a mood emergent from a two-dimensional space of
In this case: “conscious emotional experience” . The key lies in consistent
“The meditative practice studied here involves the intention and progression.
generation of a state in which an “unconditional feeling of 3.1.2 Behavioral Analysis
loving-kindness and compassion pervades the whole mind as a Several studies have tested subjects by utilizing behavioral
way of being, with no other consideration, or discursive analysis to reveal the presence or levels of compassion. The
thoughts” ... According to the tradition, as a result of this question of whether or not empathy is, as related to compassion,
practice, feelings and actions for the benefit of others arise more hard-wired into the brain has been tested. Frans de Waal also
readily when relevant situations arise. Our main hypothesis was writes about kindness from the evolutionary perspective .
thus that the concern for others cultivated during this meditation
would enhance the affective responses to emotional human Another experiment with more direct human relevance discovered
vocalizations, in particular to negative ones, and that this that when participants were given money to use, giving the money
affective response would be modulated by the degree of away to another person made them
meditation training.” feel more satisfied and happy than using it for their own personal
consumption. Whether or not altruism directly relates to
They analyzed the areas of the brain associated with empathy compassion or can be seen as a resultant action of a
including the insula cortex and the somatosensory cortex. The compassionate state would also have to be further studied.
data support their main hypothesis, namely that “the brain regions Testing within a school setting has also provided some concrete
underlying emotions and feelings are modulated in response to evidence of the effectiveness of teaching children empathy and
emotional sounds as a function of the state of compassion, the compassion. The Second Step Program by the Committee for
valence of the emotional sounds and the degree of expertise”. Children in Seattle teaches children empathy and measure success
One interesting way to see these results is to acknowledge that the with lower reported incidents of bullying and school violence
meditation itself, over time, changes the neurology of the .
practitioner in such a way that the empathy and compassion
become more automatic and spontaneous. In the section on 3.1.3 Psychometric (Self-reporting) Measures
Effects of Affect: Attention, Brave and Nass state, “people also In developing a test for compassion so that quantitative results can
often consciously regulate mood, selecting and attending to verify any changes over time, several parallel types of testing
stimuli that sustain desired moods or, alternatively, counteract present themselves as possibilities. The Positive and Negative
undesired moods” . This might prove to be insightful for Affect Schedule (PANAS) as a test for mood could provide the
informing experimental design by suggesting the role of intention basis for determining the type of affect that the digital interactive
and prolonged exposure to compassion-based stimuli. media has on the subject while an additional compassion test
would be necessary to correlate that affect with a change in
Compassion meditation would then put people in a more sustained temperament equivalent to compassion development .
compassionate mood. I say mood because it seems to fit the
definition better than emotion. “Moods...are nonintentional; they Additionally, one method used to discover compassion in nurses is
are not directed at any object in particular and are thus a compassion fatigue test developed for caregivers. This might
experienced as more diffuse, global, and general.” This would prove useful as a before and after test to determine change in
seem to be the case with long-term practitioners of compassion overall mentality.
mediation. It becomes a “way of being.”
Brave and Nass support this by saying, “Intense or repetitive
4. GOALS AND FURTHER RESEARCH
As technology becomes more advanced, allowing for actual
emotional experiences tend to prolong themselves into moods”.
intellectual “amplification”, we must counter this with the
The Lutz, Johnstone and Davidson study used fMRI results to
augmentation of compassion as well in order to balance out the
measure affect, but Brave and Nass also suggest other methods for
human equation. As it is now understood that certain emergent
doing so, including electroencephalogram (EEG) to test
phenomena occur within the brain as well as effecting the outside
neurological responses, autonomic activity, facial expression,
world, we may expect to find a terrific potential for growth and
voice, self-report measures, and affect recognition by users.
mental evolution at the intersection of intellect and compassion.
Depending on the conditions of the study, these methods for
One specific arena for further research involves the incorporation
testing affect differ in efficacy. The Compassion Mediation study
of interactive digital media into the compassion augmentation
did not use behavioral analysis during the testing because the
process. The nexus of science and art has always been a
meditators informed them that this would interfere with the
fascinating space for conjecture, but, as the sphere of science
meditation process itself. So they has to rely on the fMRI
grows to include room for what once seemed to be purely
metaphysical concerns, the research is finding ways to ground the experience in mere words, and a vividness and clarity of
effects of arts in a scientifically meaningful vocabulary. The sensations and perceptions.”
process, however, has just begun. One of the personality characteristics that correspond with an
appreciation of beauty includes an openness to new experiences.
4.1 Interactive Digital Art as Co-creation This also provides another direction for continuing research.
The theory that art can effect the human mind has long been held
by artists. The connection between digital interactive art, With our current approach we will use observational analysis to
improving a user’s level of empathy, and reducing stress has been create conceptual categories to define types of interaction with
made by artists such as Barbara Buckner in her article “Healing digital media as a first step to gradually refine and reevaluate
Interactions and Interactive Digital Art” . these connections in a more formalized research setting. Future
research includes testing the change in levels of compassion of
In combination with the standard forms of creative expression,
those exposed to interactive digital media over time (designed
current technology allows for the addition of interactivity and may
with the results from this research in mind). We will also be able
lead to a feeling of interconnectivity with the artist or others as
to research whether or not having a reflective component is
represented by the project. In the words of Barbara Buckner, “the
necessary and whether or not effect is an issue of intensity versus
user becomes cause in the scenario...The user builds an iterative
cycle of aesthetic relationships, and through this cycle of
perception and co-creation, fulfills the meaning of the work.” It is
this aspect of interactive digital art that would parallel the 5. CONCLUSION
intentional facet of compassion augmentation by other means, We, as humans, have the choice to use our emotions, sentiments,
including meditation. “The user is accepting responsibility for co- and moods in order to modify our behavior. In their work, Brave
creating unity through cause and effect.” and Nass reveal the underlying mechanisms of emotion by
explaining the connections between the thalamus, the cortex, and
As opposed to passive forms of artistic exposure, having the user the limbic system.
become participant introduces them to the themes inherent in the
artwork, such as harmony and integration, as a creator. The thalamic-limbic pathway is responsible for the primary
emotions, while secondary emotions “result from activation of the
Additionally, if a disconnect from a common humanity lessens limbic system by processing in the cortex.” Debate still exists
compassion or hinders its development, then key to developing over whether or not emotion is innate or learned. For the
compassion in others would be creating a palpable connection to purposes of conceptualizing a framework, the mechanism behind
others and, thereby, to humanity in general. With interactive the meta-mood compassion will be understood as malleable due to
digital art, the user changes from passive receptor of information the plastic nature of our mental architecture.
to co-creator, completing a cycle of connection and creating a
subsequent positive association. Regarding the ability to develop compassion by entering
meditative states, the experiment in the article entitled Regulation
Several additional terms can be introduced at this point: of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation:
The amount someone can interact with a piece is agency. Effects of Meditative Expertise used functional magnetic
Affordance is the quality that allows someone to perform an resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure differences in brain activity
action. between novice and experienced meditators, those having 10,000
plus hours of Buddhist compassion mediation practice.
4.2 Immersive Interactive Spaces Conclusions can be drawn from this they may inform the design
Whether in an interactive digital environment such as Second Life of compassion augmentation systems.
or an immersive “real-world” environment such as a multimedia The time has arrived for compassion augmentation and, in this
museum exhibit, the nature of the interaction may prove vital to digital age, with our astounding level of interconnectivity, the
compassion augmentation and this should also be taken into opportunity to utilize technology for this purpose cannot go
account during the framework development process. unrealized. Augmenting human intellect as a theory and
There are several communities in Second Life already devoted to aspiration has itself been itself further augmented to suggest that
teaching in new ways specifically designed for an immersive all facets of society must come together and work towards a
online experience. The London Knowledge Lab, Institute of common goal. Creating a framework for future compassion
Education, University of London, ran a research project entitled augmentation research the first step. In order to balance the
Learning from Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life where human equation, prosocial behavior promoted by the meta-mood
they taught sessions within that context . The viability of compassion should be placed alongside intelligence in our search
such an approach is increasingly proven by such experiments, for augmentation. With a sound lexicon for development and
especially as matters such as presence, trust, reciprocity, and goal- concrete designs for analysis, the path to augmenting human
oriented learning are imbued within the system. compassion is now more clearly defined.
4.3 Extending the Framework 6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Additional elements and questions can be added in order to My thanks Professors Nathan Freier and Jim Zappen for their
develop a more robust version of compassion augmentation. The support and review. Also, thanks to Christina Engelbart for her
last component may involve questions from the ABE eye-opening correspondence.
(Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence) as this approach may
also prove relevant to the investigation . In their research,
Peterson and Seligman find ways to measure if a “person feeling
oneness with the universe, a sense of truth, an inability to express
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