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Cultivating Kindness

Two young boys share a joyful moment, laughing with their arms around each other.
The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute will study the mechanics of kindness and spread kind practices to improve society.

People often associate kindness and understanding. The idea of a scientific understanding of kindness likely is less familiar. At UCLA, it’s academic.

A One-of-a-Kind Effort

The university of firsts is now home to the world’s first interdisciplinary research institute on kindness. The recently created UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, established with a $20 million gift from philanthropists Jennifer Harris and Matthew Harris ’84, provides funding for projects that examine the social and physical mechanics of kindness and how kindness can be taught and used to create more humane societies. It also will provide mindfulness awareness training to students, faculty, staff, and underserved Los Angeles communities and host an annual conference for sharing new discoveries in kindness research, among other activities.

“In the midst of current world politics, violence, and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” says Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences, which houses the institute. Anthropology professor Daniel Fessler is the inaugural director.

Using Science to Benefit Society

UCLA researchers already are studying the types of questions that will drive the institute’s work. UCLA anthropologists are examining how kindness spreads from person to person and group to group, UCLA sociologists are analyzing how to encourage people who regularly act unkind to engage in kind acts instead, and UCLA psychologists are exploring how kindness can improve people’s moods and reduce symptoms of depression. Others are pursuing research on how mindfulness changes neurobiology and behaviors, which can influence kindness and people’s well-being.

“Much research is needed to understand why kindness can be so scarce in the modern world,” says Matthew Harris. “Through the establishment of this institute, we hope to educate and empower people in the practice of kindness.”

Published December 2019

Matthew and Jennifer Harris

Donors Matthew and Jennifer Harris

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