The purpose of this paper is to explore the neuroscience that underpins the psychology of compassion as a competency. We explain why this cognitive competency is now taught and assessed on modules of different degree subjects in a UK university.

The paper is divided into first, an exploration of recent psychology and neuroscience literature that illuminates the differences, and relationship, between empathy and compassion for safeness building in teams. Within that, the role of oxytocin in achieving social and intellectual rewards though the exercise of cognitive flexibility, working memory and impulsive inhibitory control (Zelazo, et al, 2016) is also identified. The literature findings are compared against relevant qualitative data from the above university’s, so far, nine years of mixed methods action research on compassion-focused pedagogy (CfP).

These are that the concept and practice of embedding compassion as a cognitive competency into assessed university group work is illuminated and rationalised by research findings in neuroscience.

Research limitations/implications
The limitations of the study are that, so far, fMRI research methods have not been used to investigate student subjects involved in the compassion-focused pedagogy now in use.
Practical implications

The paper has implications for theory, policy and practice in relation to managing the increasing amount of group work that accompanies widening participation in Higher Education.


A review of this kind specifically for student assessed group and its implications for student academic achievement and mental health has not, apparently, been published
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-21
JournalJournal of Research in Innovative Teaching and Learning
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2018


  • Neuroscience
  • compassion
  • teaching and learning
  • assessment
  • higher education
  • credit


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