james kirbyDr James Kirby is a lecturer and researcher at the UQ School of Psychology. He graduated with his PhD in Clinical Psychology from UQ in 2013. His focus of research is on compassion.

Current reserarch

Examining whether compassion meditations and compassionate nudges can lead to increased compassionate behaviour using inequality paradigms. This is an experiment with two groups and they have to create as much “food” as possible using LEGO pieces. One group has lots of LEGO to make the food (high resource group), and the other group has little helpful pieces to create the food (low resource group). Each group has five minutes on the task. The high resource group has too many LEGO pieces and the research team wants to see if they will share some with the low resource group. The groups are told to create as much food as possible to ensure no child starves. The team is hoping the compassion prompts lead to more helpful behaviours. More than 600 participants have participated so far, and it seems meditation wasn’t that helpful.

Examining compassionate responding in children. The research team developed a novel paradigm where a child completes tasks alongside a puppet. The puppet can never finish the task and becomes upset and starts crying. The team wants to see how children act, and whether they can be encouraged to be compassionate and help the puppet. Findings indicate that generally children don’t help the puppet, despite the puppet being upset.

Compassion focused therapy for body shame. This research team is looking at whether compassion focused therapy can help reduce body weight shame for those individuals in bigger bodies. This trial is a world’s first, as it is the first time a manualised compassion focused therapy intervention is being conducted. Forty people have been involved in the randomised controlled trial so far, with another 40 to be recruited. The pilot trial indicated that body weight shame can be reduced and compassion increased.

Career highlights

  • Dr Kirby received an Endeavour Scholarship from the Australian Government, which enabled him to work at Stanford University in 2016, in the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research & Education (CCARE). 
  • He received a $380,000 grant from the ICARE Foundation to develop an online compassion based intervention to help injured workers return to work. This is a collaboration with colleagues from University of Newcastle Dr Jamin Day and Professor Alan Hayes.
  • Established the Compassionate Mind Research Group within the School of Psychology with Adjunct Associate Professor Stan Steindl. It is the first research unit dedicated to compassion science in Australia.
  • A podcast with Stan Steindl chatting about compassion science.
  • Dr Kirby's work examining secrecy and shame and guilt was written about in relation to Jon Snow and Game of Thrones.
  • Established the Compassion Journal with Dr James Doty from Stanford University, with the aim to disseminate compassion science.