Research Shows Compassion Meditation Can Change The Brain

Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? New study gives the answer: Yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation can affect parts of the brain that can make someone more sympathetic to others, said researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, published on 25 March in the public library of Science One, is the first study using magnetic resonance imaging, FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) who can show that positive emotions such as showing affection and kindness is something that can be learned, as well as studying music. Researchers revealed that part of the brain that is used to detect emotions and feelings changes dramatically in people who have been practicing compassion meditation regularly.

The researchers stated that every individual – ranging from children who may be involved in anger to others are likely to be affected by depression – therefore they will benefit from the practice of meditation, said Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychiatry and psychology, UW-MADISON and an expert in imaging of meditation. Davidson and Science Association of UW-MADISON Antoine Lutz was the chief investigator.

This study is part of an ongoing investigation of researchers with 16 Tibetan monks who has been practicing meditation at least 10,000 hours. Then they were paired with 16 volunteers who haven't practiced meditation before. They taught fine points of compassion meditation during the two weeks before the brain scan is performed.

"Some traditional philosophers talk about compassion as a hope for the happiness of others and kindness as hopes to release the pain of others. Compassion and kindness is the core philosophy and mission as the Dalai Lama, "said Davidson, who worked extensively with the Tibetan religious leader. "We want to see how this affects compassion volunteer’s brain systems involved in the formation of empathy.

A variety of techniques is used in meditation, compassion and requires several years to practice it. As control in this study was asked first to concentrate on a loved one, expect the health and liberty for the people who suffer. After some training, they are then asked to pass on these feelings toward all beings without thinking in detail against a person.

32nd volunteers are placed in the FMRI scanner at the UW-Madison to brain imaging, which is directed by Davidson, and they started to begin compassion meditation. They presented a variety of forms of human voices both a negative and a positive response to evoke empathy as well as voice of women who suffer, a baby laughing and background restaurant noise.

"We use the audio as a replacement for visual so that volunteers who do this meditation can keep their eyes slightly open but do not focus on any stimulus," explains Lutz.

Researchers reveal activity in the insula – at the areas near the front lines of the brain that plays an important role in the emotional body movement – when in the long term volunteers who meditate arising of compassion after exposed to emotional voices. The strength is related to the intensity of the insula is active meditation as it has estimated.

"The Insula is crucial in detecting emotions in general and especially in mapping out the body's response to an emotion – such as heart rate and blood pressure – and make that information available to other parts of the brain," said Davidson, said the head of the Institute for Health Research of emotions.

The discovery of Davidson and Lutz supported assumption that through practice, people can spread the joy and compassion.

According to them, human beings are not only silent, always evolving. The brain is very flexible, can be trained and improved. Compassion meditation involves the management of thought and emotion, it is useful to prevent mental depression.

The researchers feel interested to teach compassion meditation to young people, especially as they enter adolescence, as an attempt to prevent the crabby, aggression and violence.

"I think this problem can become a tool that we can use to give lessons about managing children emotions where this period was a time of very sensitive," said Davidson.

Think about the suffering of others and not just think of ourselves is a first step. Compassion meditation can create a more harmonious relationship in all its forms, Davidson added.

"People in the world surely can develop a small portion of kindness and compassion," he said. "Starting from ourselves, the consequences of changing in this way can be directly experienced."

Lutz and Davidson hopes to conduct additional studies to evaluate the changes that occur in the brain of every individual that fosters positive emotions to practice loving-kindness and compassion at any time.

Original Source : Dian Land, University of Wisconsin-Madison
March 25, 2008

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