December 13, 2011 4:14
Can we learn compassion? According to scientific research — yes. Meditation practice charity and compassion leads to changes in certain regions of the brain, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
This is the first study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which has established it possible to learn such qualities as kindness and compassion. Just like learning to play a musical instrument or some kind of sport. MRI showed that the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and feelings, in subjects with a wide experience of meditation significantly altered.
The study, director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology, University of Madison and an expert on the graphical representation of the meditation exercises, said the people, from children who are prone to aggression, and people with recurrent depression and society as a whole can benefit from meditation practices. Davidson and Antoine Lutz — Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, was executive tested this clinical study. This study was part of the survey group of Tibetan monks and Buddhists, who spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation. In this study, Lutz and Davidson worked with 16 monks practicing compassion meditation. Sixteen other volunteers of the same age of the comparison group without first learned the basics of meditation practice for two weeks before the MRI.
"Many spiritual traditions speak of love and kindness and compassion to ease the suffering of other people and make them happy. Kindness, full of love and compassion, plays a major role in the philosophy of the Dalai Lama "- says Davidson. He worked closely with the head of Tibetan Buddhism. "We want to find out how to volunteer call compassion affects the brain of the system, which is involved in empathy."
With compassion meditation, various techniques. Comparison group participants were to focus only on their loved ones and wish them success and health. After some training, they had to learn to call at such feelings toward all beings without thinking of someone specific.
All 32 subjects were tested in the scanner MRI Center for Brain Research graphics Wiseman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They were asked to begin meditation sympathy or thinking of something else. During these two conditions the subjects had to listen to the negative and positive human voice. These voices were meant to call the reaction of empathy or a neutral state: the voice of a woman in distress, laughing baby and a background noise of the restaurant.
"We used audio instead of visual challenges so that meditators could keep their eyes closed and not to concentrate on any visual stimulus, as is customary in such studies," — explains Lutz.
Scans revealed significant activity in the insular lobes — the region close to the front of the brain that generate compassion and meditate while listening to your voice. Islet fraction play a key role in the response of the body to the emotions. The intensity of the reaction, measured in participants, was in conjunction with intensive meditation.
"Islet shares play an extremely important role in the experience of emotions, especially in the reflection of physical reactions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. The data of the information available to other parts of the brain, "- says Davidson, concurrently Director of the Institute Research Institute of Health Emotions Research.
Activity also increased in the transition zone between the temporal and parietal lobes, especially in the right hemisphere. The researchers concluded that this area is of great importance in the process of empathy, particularly in the perception of mental and emotional attitudes of others.
"These two areas were in relation to the expression of emotion and empathy," — says Davidson. The combination of these two effects, which were seen by experienced meditators, but not new, it was very powerful. "
This finding supports the theory of Davidson and Lutz, that people can develop through meditation skills that promote kindness and compassion.
"The human ability is not always remain constant, — he says. — We can use our brain power to good use, and train it to enhance these qualities. "
The ability to develop compassion involves the regulation of thoughts and feelings. "It could be useful in the treatment of depression or preventing depression," — said Lutz.
"Thinking about the suffering of others, and not just their own, helps to put everything in its place" — he says, adding that this is an important first step in the development of compassion for yourself.
The researchers have a desire to teach meditation compassion of young people, especially when they reach adolescence, to prevent aggression and violence.
"I think it could be a tool for teaching emotional regulation of children who are at an age when there is a serious risk" to roll out of the way "- says Davidson — compassion meditation can promote a harmonious relationship."
"The world certainly needs a little more kindness and compassion" — he says. — If you start at the local level, you can see the results immediately. "
Lutz and Davidson hope for more research to determine possible changes in the brains of people who practice the development of positive emotions through meditation sympathy.
Diane Land — Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, engaged in the study of the structure and function of the brain. This article she wrote for rubrics Science website PureInsight.org, which regularly reports on new developments in science.