But genetic card deals notwithstanding, there is an enormous lot in the environment that helps develop empathy; a peaceful pregnancy, good accurately empathic nurturance. We know that a range of nurturance failures (neglect, physical and sexual abuse, poor emotional atunement) produce a range of brain changes and failures of development that result in poor empathy. The brain and hormonal system that manage our arousal levels is usually called the HPA Axis. If that's impaired, we are easily upset, feel miserable a lot of the time, needs alcohol or drugs to dull the pain, have attentions problems and do badly at school even if we are very bright, have poor impulse control and lash out at ourselves or others.
There are also physical consequences like weight problems, proneness to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But even worse, because bad nurturance actually affects a range of genes responsible for brain health, these modifications can be passed on to our children. (This process is called "epigenetics").
This trans-generational cascade of misery is something that we have been
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.
Helen Y. WengAndrew S. FoxAlexander J. ShackmanDiane E. StodolaJessica Z. K. CaldwellMatthew C. OlsonGregory M. RogersRichard J. Davidson1
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