Prof. Jean Decety in Amman and an interesting Lecture about the Neurobiological Mechanisms of Empathy and Caring for Others

I had the honor of attending a lecture by a French American Professor called Jean Decety from the University of Chicago. The lecture took place in the building of the Jordan Society of Scientific Research (JSSR) in Amman on Wednesday, 11/09/2013 (If you want to keep updated with the activities of the JSSR, here is a link to their facebook page). The title of the lecture of Prof. Decety was:

 الآليات العصبية الحيوية التي تشكل الأساس للتعاطف و الاهتمام بالآخرين لدى الإنسان 
Neurobiological Mechanisms of Empathy and Caring for Others

The topic of the lecture seemed strange to me. For minutes, I thought of not attending this lecture. Firstly, I could not imagine about what this lecture would be. Secondly, I did not know how important Prof. Decety is. Nonetheless, because I trusted my friend who recommended this lecture for me (Thank you Dr. Ali Alfar) and because I am interested in psychiatry my possible future specialty, then I googled the name of Prof. Decety. Quickly, I discovered that there is a detailed Wikipedia page about Prof. Decety. Can anyone have a detailed wikipedia page? I also found multiple articles mentioning him. Therefore, I decided quickly to attend because I thought that I would benefit something from this lecture no matter how boring the topic turned out to be.

A friend of mine and I decided to go to this lecture. My friend is also interested in psychiatry. We arrived a few minutes before the lecture started. Prof. Decety then arrived. From the first few minutes, I could deduce that he is a jolly person, funny, and to my relive, that I would not bored by the “weird” lecture that was to come.

The lecture started. A Dr. Rana Dajani introduced Prof. Decety. I understood that Dr. Dajani and Prof. Decety conducted are conducting researches together.

The lecture started with Prof. Decety talking a little bit about his family (From my short experience in attending conferences, this is something usual with western doctors). Prof. Decety explained briefly about the research center in which he works “The University of Chicago Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab (SCNL).” Prof. Decety is the head of this center. This information really impressed me because Prof. Decety is French. He had his Bachelor degree, three master degrees, and PhD in France [1]. Nonetheless, Prof. Decety’s un-American origin did not prevent the University of Chicago from appointing him as a head of a research center as important as the SCNL. What matters are qualifications! This reminded me of multiple articles that spoke about how the USA attracts scientists from all over the world. Why would not it? Is not the story of Prof. Decety an excellent example why this occurs?

As the topic of the lecture became more and more clear to me, I started enjoying the multiple researches about which Prof. Decety spoke. I was impressed a lot with a sentence that Prof. Decety used to describe himself: “I am an Evolutionary Psychologist.” I have never heard about a branch of science with that name. However, it was not hard for me to expect what this branch of study is about: Explaining pychology in view of evolution! [Here is a wikipedia article about Evolutionary Psychology]! This is very amazing! I love evolution and I think it is very logical to use it to explain biology. It turned out that it can also explain “psychology”… Those atheistic infidels!

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

Prof. Jean Decety, with active use of body language, answering the audience questions.

From the very first minutes of the lecture, Prof. Decety mentioned the “taboo” of evolution. An attending student raised his hand and asked a question that initially appeared to be related to the lecture’s topic. Nonetheless, because I come from this society, I knew from the beginning that it was a matter of the speaker wanting to prove that evolution is wrong. The questions did not stop and were more and more indirectly revolving about the correctness of Evolution. It is really a pity that many of the people around me still discuss whether evolution is correct or not! The world is way ahead of us. I do not think that this should be a topic of discussion anymore. The debate increased and another student joined. It was then consuming a lot of time that Dr. Dajani finally intervened and said (something like): “The discussion is now about Evolution and it will not end! Evolution is compatible with religion. Some think that it is not. Here at the society we will have a lecture that shows the compatibility of evolution with religion. Let us continue the lecture.” The lecture finally resumed!

Religious explanations are so wide! I really do not understand how accepting evolution contradicts the belief in God! // Source:

Religious explanations are so wide! I really do not understand how accepting evolution contradicts the belief in God! // Source:

Prof. Decety then explained about multiple studies. Of interest, Prof. Decety talked about the findings that the hormone oxytocin increased empathy. Prof. Decety then suggested jokingly, but also, almost seriously as of someone really concerned:

"Some studies show that the hormone oxytocin increase empathy in human beings" Prof. Jean Decety, the University of Chicago.

“Some studies show that the hormone oxytocin increase empathy in human beings” Prof. Jean Decety, the University of Chicago.

I did not feel the time pass before the lecture ended. At his last slide, Prof. Decety had put the links of the facebook pages of his two lab: The SCNL and the Child Neuro Suite. He asked if we could like it (The link for the SCNL is here and the link to the Child Neuro Suite is here). Next, the audience asked some questions and Prof. Decety happily answered them.

Next, I smiled a lot when I saw Prof. Decety holding a camera. What made me smile was that Prof. Decety was more interested to take photos more than the audience members who wanted to be photographed with him. When I saw the situation like this, I happily asked my friend [Thank you Dr. Fadi Walid Farah] to take a photo of me with Prof. Decety. Here I am now publishing it proudly (I hope that Prof. Decety does not mind that).

Jameel Hijazeen with Prof. Jean Decety, Amman, Jordan, September, 2013

[1] Jean Decety, Wikipedia,

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  1. Anas Abuseif

    I am very interested in such topic, actually it represents the best way of explaining humans nature and provide a good way to understand facts that have been debated long time ago. i think evolution is misunderstood because the way we studied it, they taught us one perspective, leaving the whole idea obscure.
    Thanks for sharing .
    Your little brother Anas Abuseif.

    • Thank you my friend for this nice comment. I think that in our society, the attitudes of people toward Evolution is greatly shaped by the “explanations” of religious people. Religious explanations come first when it comes to judging whether evolution is correct or not. I always tell my friends: “I do not have the scientific capaiblity to prove that evolution is correct. However, I would not listen to religious men, who mostly, do no tknow the difference between DNA and RNA. Moreover, I do not remember reading a medical or biology book that tried to cast doubt on evolution! Even medical books that we studied also depend on evolution to explain some medical information”.

      Thank you again for your nice comment.

      Welcome to my Blog 🙂

  2. Mohammad Abu Najm

    salam aleikom
    first of all, I am really proud of you Dr. Jameel as you are graduated from Mu’tah university in Jordan. And I want to say that Dr. Dajani is one of the most important researchers in Jordan and I am proud because I had the chance to pick up her experience in research field when we met in research workshop recently.
    Regarding the topic which Prof. Decety talked about, it’s very interested topic especially his sentence about the middle east, that motivate me to know more details about the lecture he exhibited.
    So, please Dr. Jameel could you give us more details about what Prof. Decety talked about.
    Thank you.

    Mohammad Abu Najm
    5th year medical student, Mutah university.

  3. Blogs are great :). Today, I woke up from sleep to discover that Prof. Decety had sent me an email. He said that he “stumbled accidentally on [my] blog”. He thanked me for what I wrote 🙂 🙂 :). Finally, he made a correction to the links I had put. Prof. Decety turned out to have two labs. If you are interested more about this field and Prof. Decety’s work, then here are the links:
    1) Child Neurosuite:
    2) Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience:

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