Dacher Keltner was born in Jalisco, Mexico, the offspring of two early members of the counterculture. His mother, a literature professor, and father, an artist, raised him and his brother in Laurel Canyon in the late 60s, where those North Hollywood hills were filled with revolution. When his mother secured her first job as a professor in 1970, he moved to a conservative town in the foothills of the California Sierra Nevada (in his 7th grade social studies class, he represented the North’s side in a debate about the Civil war, and was declared the loser by his teacher from Tennessee). He received his BA from UC Santa Barbara in 1984 and PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University in 1989. After a post-doc at UCSF with Paul Ekman, in 1992 he landed his first academic job, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then returned to Berkeley’s Psychology Department in 1996, where he is now a full professor, and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center.
His research focuses the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, awe, love, and beauty, and power, social class, and inequality. He is the co-author of two textbooks, as well as the best-selling Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Compassionate Instinct, and most recently, in May 2016, The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence. He has published over 190 scientific articles, and written for the New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, The London Times, The Wall Street Journal, SLATE, and Utne Reader, and received numerous national prizes and grants for his research. His research has been covered hundreds of times, including in TIME, Newsweek, the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, NPR, The Wallstreet Journal, and in many other outlets.
His Science of Happiness MOOC at EdX has had over 300,000 enroll. He has received the outstanding teacher and research mentor awards from UC Berkeley, and seen 20 of his PhD students and post-doctoral fellows become professors. WIRED magazine recently rated his podcasts from his course Emotion as one of the five best educational downloads, and the Utne Reader selected me for one of its 50 2008 visionaries.
In the past several years he has had the great fortune of translating his science to projects out in the world. He was a scientific consultant on Pixar’s film Inside Out. He has for three years worked with Facebook engineers and designers to make the site more kind, worked on projects at Google on altruism and emotion, and was recently featured in Tom Shadyac’s movie I Am. He is collaborating with the Sierra Club to get veterans and inner city kids outdoors. Building upon his experiences in a restorative justice program with prisoners in San Quentin Prison, he wrote a brief for a case, Ashker v. Governor of California, that led to the curtailment of solitary confinement in maximum security prisons in California.
He is married to writer Mollie McNeil and has a full life with their two teenage daughters, Natalie and Serafina. He loves camping, backpacking, Mexican food, Iggy Pop, African Music, Art Museums, Yoga, and friends.
Watch as Dacher discusses his book Born to be Good:
Here’s a cool video of work he does on power, social class, and impulsive behavior:
Subtopics: Evolution, Evolutionary psychology, Filmmaking
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