Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, study finds
The idea behind the compassion-based meditation is that "the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," says Lobsang Tenzin Negi, who developed the protocol.
(Medical Xpress)—A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person's ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.
"It's an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy," says lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University. "Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships."
The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation.
The research team also included senior author Charles Raison, formerly a psychiatrist at Emory's School of Medicine and currently at the University of Arizona, and Emory anthropologist James Rilling.
When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as "mindfulness," in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.
"The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," Negi explains. "CBCT aims to condition one's mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level."
Study participants were healthy adults without prior meditation experience. Thirteen participants randomized to CBCT meditation completed regular weekly training sessions and at-home practice for eight weeks. Eight randomized control subjects did not meditate, but instead completed health discussion classes that covered mind-body subjects like the effects of exercise and stress on well-being.
To test empathic accuracy before and following CBCT, all participants received fMRI brain scans while completing a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The RMET consists of black-and-white photographs that show just the eye region of people making various expressions. Those being tested must judge what the person in the photograph is thinking or feeling.
Eight out of the 13 participants in the CBCT meditation group improved their RMET scores by an average of 4.6 percent, while the control participants showed no increase, and in the majority of cases, a decrease in correct answers for the RMET.
The meditators, in comparison to those in the control group, also had significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These changes in brain activity accounted for changes in the empathic accuracy scores of the participants.
"These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others," Raison says. "An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression."
Findings from the current study add to a growing database indicating that the CBCT style of meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and well-being. For example, previous research at Emory found that practicing CBCT reduced emotional distress and enhanced physical resilience in response to stress in both healthy young adults and in high-risk adolescents in foster care.
Provided by Emory University
- Children in foster care develop resilience through compassion Jul 20, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Power of meditation in response to stress: new study Oct 19, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Compassion meditation may improve physical and emotional responses to psychological stress Oct 07, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Long-term meditation leads to different brain organization May 24, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Demystifying meditation -- brain imaging illustrates how meditation reduces pain Apr 05, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
A Mediterranean diet with added extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts seems to improve the brain power of older people better than advising them to follow a low-fat diet, indicates research published online in the Journal of ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Turns out, that old "practice makes perfect" adage may be overblown. New research led by Michigan State University's Zach Hambrick finds that a copious amount of practice is not enough to explain why people ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 9 hours ago | 3.3 / 5 (10) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate "sound systems" for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.
Psychology & Psychiatry 11 hours ago | 5 / 5 (4) | 0 |
Video games that pit players against human-looking characters may be more likely to provoke violent thoughts and words than games where monstrous creatures are the enemy, according to a new study by researchers ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 11 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Early-life exposure to traffic-related air pollution was significantly associated with higher hyperactivity scores at age 7, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children's Hospital ...
3 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—A research team, led by Jeremy Barr, a biology post-doctoral fellow, unveils a new immune system that protects humans and animals from infection.
8 hours ago | 4.6 / 5 (12) | 4 |
New research suggests that a compound abundant in the Mediterranean diet takes away cancer cells' "superpower" to escape death. By altering a very specific step in gene regulation, this compound essentially re-educates cancer ...
11 hours ago | 4.8 / 5 (11) | 2 |
Salamanders' immune systems are key to their remarkable ability to regrow limbs, and could also underpin their ability to regenerate spinal cords, brain tissue and even parts of their hearts, scientists have ...
12 hours ago | 4.8 / 5 (6) | 2 |
Researchers have pinpointed a catalytic trigger for the onset of Alzheimer's disease – when the fundamental structure of a protein molecule changes to cause a chain reaction that leads to the death of neurons ...
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Bacteria resistant to the antibiotic colistin are also commonly resistant to antimicrobial substances made by the human body, according to a study in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microb ...
3 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0