Abigail Marsh: Psychologist and Author
We were both fascinated by our conversation with Abigail Marsh, PhD surrounding her work on empathy, altruism and psychopathy. Professor Marsh's research focuses on the neural and cognitive bases of social and emotional processes, with a focus on empathy and the nonverbal communication of emotion. Her research is aimed at answering questions like: How do people understand what others think and feel? How does that relate to what they themselves think and feel? What causes people to want to help or harm others?
Important and riveting work aside, Abby is also an incredibly open, amazing woman. She spoke with us about the benefits of knowing yourself well and the perspective that often comes as we get older and wiser. You'll likely want to watch her TED Talk and read or listen to her book, The Fear Factor, after hearing the interview - links are below. Enjoy!
WD: What is the biggest challenge in your personal life?
AM: Time--always. I never have enough time for work, family, and self (which includes friends, exercise, and sleep). Certain things I love have just disappeared, at least for now, due to the lack of time, including hobbies like art, going out to movies, and travel for pure leisure.
WD: What is the most satisfying aspect of your personal life?
AM: My marriage--having a husband who is also a great friend and teammate
WD: What is your biggest challenge professionally?
AM: Time again--My work is very multipronged and its' hard to juggle all the things I need to do and carve out enough time to just sit and think about ideas--it's hard to avoid being busy all the time.
WD: Was there a defining moment that set you on your current path? What?
AM: I was rescued by a stranger when I was 19 and that sparked my interest in altruism (why people care about and help others) which ultimately led to my current work.
WD: Who is your support system?
AM: My husband and friends here in DC, as well as some wonderful colleagues--I'm lucky to really love all the faculty in my department.
WD: Who are the women who are most inspiring to you?
AM: Women who both tough and kind and who aren't too concerned with being conventional and pleasing everyone. It's hard to avoid those concerns.
WD: Who were your female role models growing up?
AM: I don't remember ever deliberately modeling myself after anyone. There were women I admired or thought were impressive or amazing (everyone from Madonna to Jane Goodall to Helen Keller) but not in the sense that I wanted to be like them, necessarily.
WD: What did you want to be as a child when you grew up?
AM: I didn't have a very clear idea, I don't think. I would say things like "doctor" without really knowing why. But I always loved thinking about human behavior and loved writing, and I get to do both in my job.
WD: Do you have a secret talent?
AM: I don't think many people know I am an artist. I love to draw and paint (I drew a few of the images in my book, actually). I can't wait to get back to doing it more someday.
WD: What is the best advice you've ever gotten?
AM: Not to take a job that didn't excite me and that wasn't a good fit with what I wanted, even though I didn't have any other offers at the time. It was risky to turn it down and I disappointed and annoyed people who had vouched for me, but my life would have taken a very different and much worse trajectory if I'd taken it.
Check out her website for more info on her work!