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Meditation Can Teach Your Brain to be Compassionate

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has released the results of a study that shows that people are able to cultivate their compassion through meditation, a fact that could give an answer to people suffering from depression or the treatment of anger management.

The study, which was published on March 26 in the Public Library of Science One, showed that anybody can teach himself to be more empathetic to the mental states of others through meditation, training the self for compassion in a similar method as athletes learn how to be proficient in sports.

It is all about training and willing to change, researchers say in the first study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in order to demonstrate that compassion and kindness can be learned.

The researchers have worked with a group of Tibetan monks and lay practitioners. Sixteen age-matched controls with no previous raining in meditation were correlated to the monks and were taught the basis of compassion meditation two weeks before the brain scanning actually took place.

The study director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison and an expert on imaging the effects of meditation UW-Madison associate scientist Antoine Lutz were co-principal investigators on the project.

“Many contemplative traditions speak of loving-kindness as the wish for happiness for others and of compassion as the wish to relieve others’ suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion are central to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and mission,” says Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader.

Through the study, Lutz and Davidson discovered that the voluntary induced compassion is able to affect the brain, as the more trained you are to meditate at compassion, the more activity they found in the brain area that is related to empathy.

“People are not just stuck at their respective set points,” he says. “We can take advantage of our brain’s plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities.”

The researchers said that they are particularly interested in teaching the compassion meditation to young people, which could potentially prevent violence and bullying among them.

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