Previous research has shown that practicing meditation regularly can induce positive changes in the body and can help reduce stress, improve heart health and boost the immune system. A piece today on the Huffington Post explores findings from image studies, including research done here, showing how meditation can also be used to do things like alter the brain’s structure and function and increase an individual’s empathy:
Research at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education made some incredible findings last year. Neuroeconomist Brian Knutson hooked up several monks’ brains to MRI scanners to examine their risk and reward systems. Ordinarily, the brain’s nucleus accumbens experiences a dopamine rush when you experience something pleasant — like having sex, eating a slice of chocolate cake, or finding a $20 bill in your pocket. But Knutson’s research, still in the early stages, is showing that in Tibetan Buddhist monks, this area of the brain may be able to light up for altruistic reasons.
“There are many neuroscientists out there looking at mindfulness, but not a lot who are studying compassion,” Knutson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The Buddhist view of the world can provide some potentially interesting information about the subcortical reward circuits involved in motivation.”
[University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard J.] Davidson’s research on… monks also found that meditation on compassion can produce powerful changes in the brain. When the monks were asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion,” their brains generated powerful gamma rays that may have indicated a compassionate state of mind, Wired reported in 2006. This suggests, then, that empathy may be able to be cultivated by “exercising” the brain through loving-kindness meditation.
Previously: How meditation can influence gene activity, How mindfulness-based therapies can improve attention and health, Stanford scientists examine meditation and compassion in the brain and Study shows mindfulness may reduce cancer patients’ anxiety and depression
Photo by Bliss Flow Yoga