Change Your Mind, Change the World

Center for Healthy Minds

University of Wisconsin–Madison
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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

RichardDavidsonDirectory
Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Drew Fox
Drew Fox
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
Collaborator and Postdoctoral Fellow. University of California–San Francisco
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