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Rescooped by Giselle Meléndez from Contemplative Science!

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 | Meditation |

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.

Via Eileen Cardillo
Eileen Cardillo's curator insight, May 23, 2013 6:46 AM

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 ( 


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.

Rescooped by Giselle Meléndez from Contemplative Science!

Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation | Scientific American

Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation | Scientific American | Meditation |

Neuroscientist Christof Koch shares his impressions following a recent weeklong exchange between western scientists and the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community living in exile at Drepung Monastery in southern India:


"What passed between these representatives of two distinct intellectual modes of thinking about the world were facts, data—knowledge. That is, knowledge about the more than two-millennia-old Eastern tradition of investigating the mind from the inside, from an interior, subjective point of view, and the much more recent insights provided by empirical Western ways to probe the brain and its behavior using a third-person, reductionist framework. What the former brings to the table are scores of meditation techniques to develop mindfulness, concentration, insight, serenity, wisdom and, it is hoped, in the end, enlightenment. These revolve around a daily practice of quiet yet alert sitting and letting the mind settle before embarking on a specific program, such as “focused attention” or the objectless practice of generating a state of “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion.” After years of daily contemplative exercise—nothing comes easily in meditation—practitioners can achieve considerable control over their mind.


Twelve years of schooling, four years of college and an even longer time spent in advanced graduate training fail to familiarize our future doctors, soldiers, engineers, scientists, accountants and politicians with such techniques..And this is to our loss!" 




Via Eileen Cardillo
Eileen Cardillo's curator insight, August 2, 2013 4:59 PM

A little light reading for a Friday afternoon as I jump back in after a summer break. I'm gathering new research to incorporate in my fall Science of Meditation course - more posts to follow! Thanks for reading. 

Rescooped by Giselle Meléndez from Contemplative Science!

Real-time fMRI links subjective experience with brain activity during focused attention | NeuroImage

Real-time fMRI links subjective experience with brain activity during focused attention | NeuroImage | Meditation |

ABSTRACT:  Recent advances in brain imaging have improved the measure of neural processes related to perceptual, cognitive and affective functions, yet the relation between brain activity and subjective experience remains poorly characterized. In part, it is a challenge to obtain reliable accounts of participant's experience in such studies. Here we addressed this limitation by utilizing experienced meditators who are expert in introspection. We tested a novel method to link objective and subjective data, using real-time fMRI (rt-fMRI) to provide participants with feedback of their own brain activity during an ongoing task. We provided real-time feedback during a focused attention task from the posterior cingulate cortex, a hub of the default mode network shown to be activated during mind-wandering and deactivated during meditation. In a first experiment, both meditators and non-meditators reported significant correspondence between the feedback graph and their subjective experience of focused attention and mind-wandering. When instructed to volitionally decrease the feedback graph, meditators, but not non-meditators, showed significant deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex. We were able to replicate these results in a separate group of meditators using a novel step-wise rt-fMRI discovery protocol in which participants were not provided with prior knowledge of the expected relationship between their experience and the feedback graph (i.e., focused attention versus mind-wandering). These findings support the feasibility of using rt-fMRI to link objective measures of brain activity with reports of ongoing subjective experience in cognitive neuroscience research, and demonstrate the generalization of expertise in introspective awareness to novel contexts.


Garrison, KA et al. (in press). Real-time fMRI links subjective experience with brain activity during focused attention. NeuroImage. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.05.030


Dr. Brewer gives an overview of the study in layman's terms here: (photo credit from this blogpost).


PDF of accepted manuscript available here:

Via Eileen Cardillo
Eileen Cardillo's curator insight, May 24, 2013 6:50 AM

Ever since hearing Judson Brewer present results from this study at last year's International Symposium on Contemplative Science, I have eagerly awaited its publication. The use of real-time neural feedback during fMRI in order to facilitate meditation training is of tremendous theoretical value. fMRI is not practical as a widely available training tool, but this kind of data should significantly enhance our understanding of the mechanisms by which we acquire and sustain meditation states. In turn, this knowledge can be used to hone more accessible forms of neurofeedback for meditators (e.g. EEG).


This kind of research is also of interest to cognitive neuroscientists more widely. By so compellingly linking subjective mental states with ongoing neural activity, Garrison and colleagues elegantly demonstrate the feasibility and utility of a neurophenomonology approach. 


For background on the method, two reviews just came out:


Birbaumer, N. et al (in press). Learned regulation of brain metabolism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.


Sulzer, J. et al (in press). Real-time fMRI neurofeedback: Progress and challenges. NeuroImage.