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  • Why some people are more altruistic than others | Abigail Marsh
    Why some people are more altruistic than others | Abigail Marsh
  • Abigail Marsh: "Human nature is not fundamentally selfish"
    Abigail Marsh: "Human nature is not fundamentally selfish"
  • Dr. Abigail Marsh - The Altruistic Brain
    Dr. Abigail Marsh - The Altruistic Brain
  • Opinion | This is how authoritarian-style leaders divide us. It doesn't have to be this way.
    Opinion | This is how authoritarian-style leaders divide us. It doesn't have to be this way.
  • Nature & Nurture #50: Dr. Abigail Marsh - The Neuroscience of Empathy & Altruism
    Nature & Nurture #50: Dr. Abigail Marsh - The Neuroscience of Empathy & Altruism
  • Expanding Empathy Panel Discussion: Empathy in the Time of COVID-19
    Expanding Empathy Panel Discussion: Empathy in the Time of COVID-19
  • Abigail Marsh, "The Fear Factor"
    Abigail Marsh, "The Fear Factor"
  • Ask a Psychopathy Researcher - What's the difference between Psychopathy and Sociopathy
    Ask a Psychopathy Researcher - What's the difference between Psychopathy and Sociopathy
  • When Your Child is a Psychopath
    When Your Child is a Psychopath
  • The Chemistry of Fear - Bytesize Science
    The Chemistry of Fear - Bytesize Science
  • The Chemistry of Love
    The Chemistry of Love

Learn More About Abigail Marsh

A pioneer in the neuroscience of heroism, altruism, courage, and compassion, Abigail Marsh is a Professor of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Neuroscience, and Cognitive Science at Georgetown University. Rescued by a heroic stranger as a teenager following a car accident, Marsh channeled this experience into a groundbreaking research career exploring questions like: Why do people help others? How can they overcome fear to act courageously? Her findings are described in over 90 publications in journals that include Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Human Behaviour, American Journal of Psychiatry, and JAMA Psychiatry. She describes her findings in her award-winning book “The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Links Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between” (2017). Recognized in 2022 by the College as the “most admired and respected” instructor at Georgetown, where she teaches courses on psychology, neuroscience, and empathic communication, Marsh frequently speaks in the press and on stage about overcoming fear, cultivating empathy, and the benefits that accrue to individuals, organizations, and societies when people are encouraged to develop trust, compassion, and courage. Marsh is also a TED speaker whose 2017 talk has been viewed over 2 million times.   

A woman in STEM, Marsh has been recognized as a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and has been awarded the Cozzarelli Prize for scientific excellence and originality from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the S&R Kuno Award for Applied Science for the Social Good, and the Richard J. Wyatt Fellowship award for translational research from the NIMH. Marsh serves on the boards of One Day Sooner and the National Kidney Donation Organization and is the co-founder and vice-president of the non-profit mental health organization Psychopathy Is. Marsh holds a BA from Dartmouth College, a PhD from Harvard University, and conducted her post-doctoral research at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Abigail Marsh is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Abigail Marsh was last modified: September 27th, 2022 by Whitney Jennings

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Praise for "The Fear Factor"

“A brilliant, beautiful, and important book about the things that make some of us angels, some of us devils, and all of us human. You won’t be able to put it down.”

Daniel Gilbert, New York Times Bestselling Author, “Stumbling on Happiness”

“Let Abigail Marsh guide you on a riveting ride through your own brain. With lively writing and an impressive command of science, she shows how sensitivity to fear can be both a weapon of evil and a force for good.”

Adam Grant, New York Times Bestselling Author of “Originals," “Give and Take” and “Option B” (with Sheryl Sandberg)

“’The Fear Factor’ reads like a thriller. Abigail Marsh takes us through the groundbreaking research that has thrown light on two of the most fundamental traits of human beings: extreme selfishness and extreme altruism. Page after page, she shows convincingly that the capacity to perceive and identify fear and, consequently, to feel empathy as one would for a child in danger, is the key factor that makes us behave as a psychopath or as someone who joyfully gives a kidney to a stranger. One of the most mind-opening books I have read in years.”

Matthieu Ricard, Author, “Happiness and Altruism”

“Beautifully and engagingly written, yet not compromising on science. Abigail Marsh has written a page-turner that takes you meticulously through the scientific evidence for why altruism exists while fooling you into thinking that you are reading a detective novel. This is essential reading for anyone interested in why people vary in their capacity for empathy and love.”

Essi Viding, Ph.D., Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, University College London

“Marsh’s dynamic prose brings scientific studies and technical topics to life… Those who seek to comprehend the origin of fear, altruism, and elements of human nature will find this book a key factor in their increased understanding.”

Science

“This compelling scientific detective story spirals outward into realms that affect everyone. Best of all, [Marsh’s] writing style is vivid and personable.”

Wall Street Journal

“Recommend this fascinating text to readers of pop psychology and true crime fans who wish to better understand the minds of potential criminals.”

Booklist

“Though we’re all riddled with contradictions, certain principles help explain who we are. Those principles are rooted in neuro-chemical realities, not just of the human brain but also the brains of other species with which we share more than we realize. Look a little deeper, and you’ll see how we’re all connected. 'The Fear Factor' is a fine example of a book that looks deeper, showing how an ancient part of the brain— central to our emotional lives—plays a pivotal role in who we are and what we do. It’s a sharp analysis sprinkled with relatable examples, and an excellent brain book…”

Forbes

“Marsh posits that we all exist somewhere along the same empathy spectrum, with psychopaths at one end and 'extreme altruists'–people who, for instance, donate a kidney to a stranger–at the other. The key, she argues is our response to another’s fear; her book is deft enough to be chilling at times, infectiously optimistic at others.”

Daily Telegraph

“Abigail Marsh is a fantastic writer and a pioneering scientist in the field of neuroscience… Highly recommended to those who enjoy neuroscience, the human condition and exceptional cases of the brain going haywire.”

Always Trust in Books

“'The Fear Factor' is a fascinating tour of altruism research, all the better for being sprinkled with anecdotes about Marsh’s life, career and unforgettable research subjects. As well as the extremes of human nature, Marsh says plenty that is of relevance to those of us in the middle of the bell curve, including how we can strive to be more altruistic in our everyday lives.”

New Scientist

“'The Fear Factor' provides an illuminating dive into the science behind both altruism and psychopathy, promising an entertaining read for scientists and laypeople alike… A groundbreaking read, 'The Fear Factor' is essential for anyone seeking to understand the heights and depths of human nature.”

Paste Magazine

“…All readers experiencing our national culture of fear, rage, and (perhaps in some cases) a rush to judgment will benefit from this examination of the importance of fear, empathy, humility, and the mysterious physiological conditions that can trigger (organically or not) the extraordinary altruist in all of us. The psychopathy stories are dark and disturbing, the altruism stories are extraordinary, and somewhere in all these shades we can find ourselves.”

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