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Changing Your Brain and Generosity through Compassion Meditation Training

Image by MichaelJay via iStockPhoto

Center researchers investigate whether compassion – the feeling of caring for and wanting to help others who are suffering – could be cultivated through meditation training using an online intervention. In previous research, we predicted that practicing compassion would increase generous behavior as well as brain responses to human suffering.

After two weeks of daily online training, the team found that participants who learned compassion were more generous in an economic exchange game compared to the control group (who learned how to reframe stressful thoughts). Greater generosity in the compassion group was associated with changes in the brain’s response to human suffering in regions involved in empathy and increasing positive emotions. This work suggests that compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.

We are also investigating whether compassion training changes how the heart responds when encountering others’ suffering, and what changes in the compassionate brain are associated with heart rate. In addition, we are investigating how compassion training impacts visual attention to suffering and the neural mechanisms associated with compassionate visual attention. We are also using multivariate neuroimaging methods to understand how compassionate brain patterns may become more consistent and stable after training.

Audio files of Compassion Meditation Training and Cognitive Reappraisal Training are available for download.

The Redistribution Game is also available and can be used on separate server.

People Working on This Study

Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Drew Fox
Drew Fox
Former Assistant Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Regina Lapate
Regina Lapate
Postdoctoral Fellow, UC-Berkeley
Alex Shackman
Alex Shackman
Assistant Professor, Affective and Translational Neuroscience, University of Maryland
Helen Weng
Helen Weng
Honorary Fellow, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of California–San Francisco

Media Related to this Project

Transforming Empathy Into Compassion: Why It Matters
Feb 28, 2023
Why some kinds of empathy are better for you than others.
Can compassion help heal patients — and providers?
Nov 20, 2019
Center Founder and Director Richard Davidson discusses a research study at the center that focused on compassion training.
The Benefits of Positive Thinking—and How You Can Do More of It
Feb 15, 2019
This Health article features research from Richard Davidson and the Center for Healthy Minds about training your brain to improve compassion
A Neuroscientist On Vanquishing Anger From Our Minds
Dec 07, 2018
Center founder Richard Davidson discusses how much anger is too much anger--and how we can make change by transforming anger into compassion and love
A Neuroscientist On What Anger Does To The Mind
Dec 01, 2018
Center founder Richard Davidson discusses how anger isn't the only way to confront injustice or respond to someone who has treated you badly.
Compassion is Like a Muscle that Gets Stronger with Training
May 23, 2018
A study conducted by the Center for Healthy Minds found that loving-kindness meditation and compassion training boost empathic resilience.
Training Compassion 'Muscle' May Boost Brain's Resilience to Others' Suffering
May 22, 2018
A study conducted by the Center for Healthy Minds found that loving-kindness meditation and compassion training boost empathic resilience.
Want a More Altruistic Brain? Try Daily Gratitude Journaling.
Dec 18, 2017
Citing an fMRI study from the Center for Healthy Minds, the author writes that gratitude journaling cultivates "pure altruism" in the brain.
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