Contemplative Science
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the science of meditation and other contemplative practices
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Brain can be trained in compassion - free download of trainings used in study

Brain can be trained in compassion - free download of trainings used in study | Contemplative Science | Scoop.it

Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion — the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.

 

A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, recently published online in the journal Psychological Science, is the first to investigate whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

 

"Our fundamental question was, 'Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'" says Helen Weng, a graduate student in clinical psychology and lead author of the paper. "Our evidence points to yes."

 

..."It's kind of like weight training," Weng says. "Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion 'muscle' and respond to others' suffering with care and a desire to help."

Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. "We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time," says Weng.

Eileen Cardillo's insight:

I am linking to this write-up of Weng's compassion study again because a) it's a clear summary for those uninterested in reading the full research article or finding it behind a paywall and b) because the compassion training and cognitive re-appraisal training are available for free download from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds' website (http://investigatinghealthyminds.org/compassion.html). 

 

Weng and colleagues observed neural changes associated with more altruistic behavior after 30 minutes of daily compassion meditation - after only two weeks of practice. If you've never tried compassion meditations or are looking for a fresh incentive, here you go.

 

Methods sections of meditation papers generally do not provide sufficient detail to get a clear sense of exactly what kind of meditation practice participants were asked to do, let alone to replicate the meditation instructions. Making their meditation trainings easily available is good for interested readers, and good for science, too.

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Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering | Psychological Science

Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering | Psychological Science | Contemplative Science | Scoop.it

ABSTRACT: Compassion is a key motivator of altruistic behavior, but little is known about individuals’ capacity to cultivate compassion through training. We examined whether compassion may be systematically trained by testing whether (a) short-term compassion training increases altruistic behavior and (b) individual differences in altruism are associated with training-induced changes in neural responses to suffering. In healthy adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context. Furthermore, increased altruistic behavior after compassion training was associated with altered activation in brain regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation, including the inferior parietal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and in DLPFC connectivity with the nucleus accumbens. These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training and that greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.

 

Weng, H.Y. et al. (in press). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797612469537

 

Picture credit: Doug Savage, Savage Chickens.

Eileen Cardillo's insight:

University of Wisconsin-Madison does more standards-setting work. Most notably, they used an active control group of comparable quality and rigor and in their analyses linked behavior outside the scanner to neural activity during a different task. Bonus: the lead author, Helen Weng, is a graduate student.

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