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Can mindfulness and compassion help those with chronic stress?

Health benefits of meditating on compassion to increase happiness and empathy.
Anne Hart, photography and book.

Online you can find articles on how your reaction to stress can kill, can make you sick, and articles on how to use meditation on compassion to help heal. You may wish to see articles such as ""Stress: Portrait of a Killer" Examines How Stress Can Kill You,"Stress Kills The Mind, One Day At A Time - Forbes,"and "Stress Kills − Don't Take it Lightly - Heart MD Institute." You also may wish to check out this article on stress, "Helping Employees Maintain Productivity in an Always On Global Workplace."

 

The issue regarding stress is about how each person may react differently toward different types and levels of stress. Some people have over-aroused and some people have under-aroused nervous systems that react in different ways to chronic or not so frequent stress. See, "Why Stress Is Deadly - LiveScience."

 

The caption under the image of that article reads, "causes deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart and can make you more susceptible to illnesses ranging from the common cold to cancer." You also may wish to see the article, "Emotional Stress Could Cause Periodontal Disease." Some people Some people view independence as stressful, whereas others react to dependence as stressful.

 

Like yawns, people catch stress just from watching it, real or in the movies

 

You may wish to check out the abstract of a recent study, "Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by social closeness and observation modality." It's published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, since April 17, 2014. Authors are Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., and Singer, T.

 

Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response. Your stress is my stress, says a new study. Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response.

 

If you're habitually watching stressful situations on TV, in movies, in games, or on those talk shows where a family counselor deals with very troubled, stressed people on TV programs, you're also stressing your own body, particularly your heart, brain, and other organs, raising your blood pressure, and prematurely aging out your arteries.

 

How many people watch programs that only make them laugh as compared to reality TV presenting stressful situations or bad news on the news each day or evening? On the other hand, how your perceive stress is how it will affect you, and the only way to know is the measure your physiology such as stress levels, blood pressure, heart rate and other signs that the stress you're watching is stressing you and damaging your health or putting wear and tear on your body just by watching.

 

Empathic stress can happen without you actually realizing you're being stressed

 

Stress is contagious. Observing another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make our own bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. This is the conclusion reached by scientists involved in a large-scale cooperation project between the departments of Tania Singer at the Max-Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and Clemens Kirschbaum at the Technische Universität Dresden.

 

Empathic stress arose primarily when the observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship and the stressful situation could be directly observed through a one-way mirror. However, even the observation of stressed strangers via video transmission was enough to put some people on red alert. In our stress-ridden society, empathic stress is a phenomenon that should not be ignored by the health care system.

 

Stress is a major health threat in today’s society

 

It causes a range of psychological problems like burnout, depression and anxiety. Even those who lead relatively relaxed lives constantly come into contact with stressed individuals. Whether at work or on television: someone is always experiencing stress, and this stress can affect the general environment in a physiologically quantifiable way through increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol.

 

“The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing,” says Veronika Engert, according to the April 30, 2014 news release, "Your stress is my stress." Engert is one of the study’s first authors. “There must be a transmission mechanism via which the target’s state can elicit a similar state in the observer down to the level of a hormonal stress response.“

 

This is particularly true considering that many studies experience difficulties to induce firsthand stress to begin with. The authors found that empathic stress reactions could be independent of (“vicarious stress”) or proportional to (“stress resonance”) the stress reactions of the actively stressed individuals.

 

Mental arithmetic tasks and interviews also are stressful

 

During the stress test, the test subjects had to struggle with difficult mental arithmetic tasks and interviews, while two supposed behavioral analysts assessed their performance. Only five percent of the directly stressed test subjects managed to remain calm; the others displayed a physiologically significant increase in their cortisol levels.

 

In total, 26 percent of observers who were not directly exposed to any stress whatsoever also showed a significant increase in cortisol. The effect was particularly strong when observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship (40 percent). However, even when watching a complete stranger, the stress was transmitted to ten percent of the observers. Accordingly, emotional closeness is a facilitator but not a necessary condition for the occurrence of empathic stress.

 

When the observers watched the events directly through a one-way mirror, 30 percent of them experienced a stress response: Stress is contagious

 

Even presenting the stress test only virtually via video transmission was sufficient to significantly increase the cortisol levels of 24 percent of the observers. “This means that even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” says Engert, according to the news release. “Stress has enormous contagion potential.”

 

Stress becomes a problem primarily when it is chronic. “A hormonal stress response has an evolutionary purpose, of course. When you are exposed to danger, you want your body to respond with an increase in cortisol,” explains Engert, according to the news release. “However, permanently elevated cortisol levels are not good. They have a negative impact on the immune system and neurotoxic properties in the long term.”

 

Individuals working as caregivers or the family members of chronically stressed individuals have an increased risk to suffer from the potentially harmful consequences of empathic stress. Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves.

 

Caregivers may be chronically stressed

 

The results of the study also debunked a common prejudice: men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency. “In surveys however, women tend to assess themselves as being more empathic compared to men’s self-assessments. This self-perception does not seem to hold if probed by implicit measures”.

 

Future studies are intended to reveal exactly how the stress is transmitted and what can be done to reduce its potentially negative influence on society. If you're caring for someone for a length of time, you can become chronically stressed. But not everyone can afford the cost of respite such as adult day care for someone with mental issues or dementia or a visiting caregiver that allows the usual caregiver to someone confined to the home to have some time away from the caring duties of a loved one.

 

You also may wish to check out, "Celebration of compassion." It's a unique multimedia eBook that presents various scientists’, practitioners’, and therapists’ experiences. Or see, "Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior."

 

People can catch stress from watching it, real, on TV shows, or in the movies

 

Like yawns, people catch stress just from watching it, real or in the movies. You may wish to check out the abstract of a recent study, "Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by social closeness and observation modality." It's published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, since April 17, 2014. Authors are Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., and Singer, T.

 

Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response. Your stress is my stress, says a new study. Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response. If you're habitually watching stressful situations on TV, in movies, in games, or on those talk shows where a family counselor deals with very troubled, stressed people on TV programs, you're also stressing your own body, particularly your heart, brain, and other organs, raising your blood pressure, and prematurely aging out your arteries.

 

How many people watch programs that only make them laugh as compared to reality TV presenting stressful situations or bad news on the news each day or evening? On the other hand, how your perceive stress is how it will affect you, and the only way to know is the measure your physiology such as stress levels, blood pressure, heart rate and other signs that the stress you're watching is stressing you and damaging your health or putting wear and tear on your body just by watching.

 

Empathic stress can happen without you actually realizing you're being stressed

 

Stress is contagious. Observing another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make our own bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. This is the conclusion reached by scientists involved in a large-scale cooperation project between the departments of Tania Singer at the Max-Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and Clemens Kirschbaum at the Technische Universität Dresden.

 

Empathic stress arose primarily when the observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship and the stressful situation could be directly observed through a one-way mirror. However, even the observation of stressed strangers via video transmission was enough to put some people on red alert. In our stress-ridden society, empathic stress is a phenomenon that should not be ignored by the health care system.

 

Stress is a major health threat in today’s society

 

It causes a range of psychological problems like burnout, depression and anxiety. Even those who lead relatively relaxed lives constantly come into contact with stressed individuals. Whether at work or on television: someone is always experiencing stress, and this stress can affect the general environment in a physiologically quantifiable way through increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol.

 

“The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing,” says Veronika Engert, according to the April 30, 2014 news release, "Your stress is my stress." Engert is one of the study’s first authors. “There must be a transmission mechanism via which the target’s state can elicit a similar state in the observer down to the level of a hormonal stress response.“

 

This is particularly true considering that many studies experience difficulties to induce firsthand stress to begin with. The authors found that empathic stress reactions could be independent of (“vicarious stress”) or proportional to (“stress resonance”) the stress reactions of the actively stressed individuals.

 

Mental arithmetic tasks and interviews also are stressful

 

During the stress test, the test subjects had to struggle with difficult mental arithmetic tasks and interviews, while two supposed behavioral analysts assessed their performance. Only five percent of the directly stressed test subjects managed to remain calm; the others displayed a physiologically significant increase in their cortisol levels.

 

In total, 26 percent of observers who were not directly exposed to any stress whatsoever also showed a significant increase in cortisol. The effect was particularly strong when observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship (40 percent). However, even when watching a complete stranger, the stress was transmitted to ten percent of the observers. Accordingly, emotional closeness is a facilitator but not a necessary condition for the occurrence of empathic stress.

 

When the observers watched the events directly through a one-way mirror, 30 percent of them experienced a stress response: Stress is contagious

 

Even presenting the stress test only virtually via video transmission was sufficient to significantly increase the cortisol levels of 24 percent of the observers. “This means that even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” says Engert, according to the news release. “Stress has enormous contagion potential.”

 

Stress becomes a problem primarily when it is chronic. “A hormonal stress response has an evolutionary purpose, of course. When you are exposed to danger, you want your body to respond with an increase in cortisol,” explains Engert, according to the news release. “However, permanently elevated cortisol levels are not good. They have a negative impact on the immune system and neurotoxic properties in the long term.”

Individuals working as caregivers or the family members of chronically stressed individuals have an increased risk to suffer from the potentially harmful consequences of empathic stress. Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves.

 

Caregivers may be chronically stressed

 

The results of the study also debunked a common prejudice: men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency. “In surveys however, women tend to assess themselves as being more empathic compared to men’s self-assessments. This self-perception does not seem to hold if probed by implicit measures”

 

Future studies are intended to reveal exactly how the stress is transmitted and what can be done to reduce its potentially negative influence on society. If you're caring for someone for a length of time, you can become chronically stressed. But not everyone can afford the cost of respite such as adult day care for someone with mental issues or dementia or a visiting caregiver that allows the usual caregiver to someone confined to the home to have some time away from the caring duties of a loved one.

 

You also may wish to check out, "Celebration of compassion." It's a unique multimedia eBook that presents various scientists’, practitioners’, and therapists’ experiences. Or see, "Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior."

 

Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress say researchers

New research, "Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress," from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress.

Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people's ability to be resilient under stress. Stress can raise cortisol levels, which in turn, could lead to more belly fat, or insulin resistance, but mindfulness may reduce too high cortisol levels.

Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs. The question for readers interested in holistic health is whether mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity?

 

"More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits," said lead author J. David Creswell, according to the July 2, 2014 news release, "Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress." Creswell is an associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

 

For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

 

Saliva samples were taken to measure levels of cortisol, the stress hormone

 

Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.

 

The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

"When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task," said Creswell, according to the news release. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."

 

Creswell's group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.

 

In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon's Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University's Kirk Warren Brown. The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.

 

You also may find noteworthy the abstracts of these other studies, "Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction." Or take a look at, "Cortisol and cognitive function in midlife: The role of childhood cognition and educational attainment." There's also a study of interest to those concerned with abdominal fat issues exacerbated by chronic stress, "Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk."

 

In that study, researchers found that chronic stress is associated with enhanced vulnerability to diet-related metabolic risk (abdominal adiposity, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress). Stress-induced peripheral NPY may play a mechanistic role. About NPY, also known as perhipheral neuropeptide Y, in preclinical studies, the combination of chronic stress and a high sugar/fat diet is a more potent driver of visceral adiposity than diet alone, a process mediated by peripheral neuropeptide Y (NPY), the study's abstract explains.

 

Finding right meditation technique is key to user satisfaction

 

New to meditation and already thinking about quitting? You may have simply chosen the wrong method. A new study published online July 7, 2012 in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing highlights the importance of ensuring that new meditators select methods with which they are most comfortable, rather than those that are most popular.

 

You may wish to check out Adam Burke's original study, "Comparing Individual Preferences for Four Meditation Techniques: Zen, Vipassana (Mindfulness), Qigong, and Mantra." It's published in the July 2012 isssue of EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing.

 

If you find a meditation method that works for you, you're more likely to stick with it, says Adam Burke, the author of the study. If not, there is a higher chance they may abandon meditation altogether, losing out on its myriad personal and medical benefits. Burke is a professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University and the director of San Francisco State's Institute of Holistic Health Studies.

 

"Because of the increase in both general and clinical use of meditation, you want to make sure you're finding the right method for each person," he explains in the July 6, 2012 news release, "Finding right meditation technique key to user satisfaction."

 

Although meditation has become significantly more popular in the U.S., Burke said, there have been very few studies comparing multiple methods head to head to examine individual preference or specific clinical benefits. You also may want to check out the study or its abstract, "Qigong as a Novel Intervention for Service Members With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury."

 

To better understand user preference, Burke in the San Francisco State University study, "Comparing Individual Preferences for Four Meditation Techniques: Zen, Vipassana (Mindfulness), Qigong, and Mantra" compared four popular meditation methods -- Mantra, Mindfulness, Zen and Qigong Visualization -- to see whether novice meditation practitioners favored one over the others. The study's 247 participants were taught each method and asked to practice at home and, at the end of the study, evaluate which they preferred. The two simpler methods, Mantra and Mindfulness, were preferred by 31 percent of study participants. Zen and Qigong had smaller but still sizable contingents of adherents, with 22 percent and 14.8 percent of participants preferring them, respectively.

 

The results show the value of providing new practitioners a simpler, more accessible method of meditation

 

Researchers also emphasize that no one technique is best for everyone, and even less common methods are preferred by certain people. Older participants, who grew up when Zen was becoming one of the first meditation techniques to gain attention in the U.S., in particular were more likely to prefer that method.

 

"It was interesting that Mantra and Mindfulness were found to be equally compelling by participants despite the fact that they are fundamentally different techniques," Burke explains in the July 6, 2012 news release, "Finding right meditation technique key to user satisfaction." Mindfulness is the most recent meditation technique to gain widespread popularity, he added, and is often the only one with which a novice practitioner or health professional is familiar. Not surprisingly, Mindfulness was the method most preferred by the youngest participants.

 

"If someone is exposed to a particular technique through the media or a healthcare provider, they might assume because it's popular it's the best for everyone," Burke says in the news release. "But that's like saying because a pink dress or a blue sport coat is popular this year, it's going to look good on everybody. In truth, different people like different things. One size does not fit all."

 

If an individual is not comfortable with a specific method for any reason, he explains, they may be less likely to continue meditating and would lose out on such benefits as reduced stress, lower blood pressure or even treatment for addiction

 

Burke hopes to see more comparative meditation studies, especially to determine if particular methods are better at addressing specific health issues, such as addiction. If that's the case, he said, healthcare professionals would be able to guide patients toward techniques that will be most effective for them. Additional studies are also needed to determine if there is a way to predict which method will be best suited for any particular individual, he said.

 

Interested in a variety of imaginative types of meditation? Then you may wish to see another holistic health meditation study, "Innovations in Integrative Healthcare Education: Mind-Body Medicine Training." San Francisco State University is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin.

 

The University enrolls nearly 30,000 students each year and offers nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theater arts and ethnic studies. The University's more than 212,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

 

Meditation and compassion: Can it change the brain?

 

The University of California studies how meditation and compassion changes the brain so that happiness shows up in brain scans. One local example is the UC Davis: Center for Mind and Brain: The Shamatha Project. Meditation on happiness and compassion can produce wondrous results in the field of holistic health. Happiness can be seen and measured in a brain scan picture. So can empathy and compassion. Measurable levels of happiness and empathy could be increased by meditating on compassion.

Meditation offers many benefits to mental and physical health. The Shamatha Project, the most comprehensive study of meditation to date, investigates the psychological and physiological processes underlying such benefits. In a randomized, controlled study, we studied how intensive meditation training affects how people think and feel. We employed cognitive and perceptual tasks, emotional provocation, questionnaires, and physiological and biochemical monitoring to assess people’s skills and behavior before during, and after long-term, intensive meditative practice.

 

Researchers at UC Davis randomly assigned 60 healthy people with prior meditation experience to an intensive 3-month meditation retreat or a control group. The control participants later had a 3-month retreat as well. Laboratory assessments of all participants were obtained before, during, and after their retreats and at various follow-up points. In retreat, participants received instruction from B. Alan Wallace in meditative practices designed to promote relaxation, refine attention, and develop compassion and kindness toward others. Participants practiced alone about 6 hours a day over the 3-month period.

 

In another study mentioned in the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain, (on page 190), Tibetan Buddhist monks were measured for inner peace and off-the-chart happiness levels, as the monks quietly meditated on compassion, explains a paragraph in Cain's book. To Westerners it looks as if compassion is the same as ultimate happiness for the monks as they meditated, as measured by brain scans. Compassion seems to be defined as relationship-honoring, at least in some Asian societies. For more information, also check out the Goodreads site, Quiet Quotes By Susan Cain.

 

The health benefits of compassion meditation shows up in brain scans

 

A recent study shows that compassion meditation changes the brain. Can we train ourselves to be compassionate" A new study suggests the answer is yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples' mental states, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reports a March 26, 2008 news release, "Study shows compassion meditation changes the brain."

 

Published March 26 in the Public Library of Science One, the study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to indicate that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.

 

Individuals could benefit from meditating on compassion to achieve more internal feelings of happiness

 

The research suggests that individuals - from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression - and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices, says study director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison and an expert on imaging the effects of meditation. Davidson and UW-Madison associate scientist Antoine Lutz were co-principal investigators on the project.

 

The study was part of the researchers' ongoing investigations with a group of Tibetan monks and lay practitioners who have practiced meditation for a minimum of 10,000 hours. In this case, Lutz and Davidson worked with 16 monks who have cultivated compassion meditation practices. Sixteen age-matched controls with no previous training were taught the fundamentals of compassion meditation two weeks before the brain scanning took place.

 

"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, in the March 26, 2008 news release, "Study shows compassion meditation changes the brain. Davidson has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. "We wanted to see how this voluntary generation of compassion affects the brain systems involved in empathy."

 

Various techniques are used in compassion meditation, and the training can take years of practice. The controls in this study were asked first to concentrate on loved ones, wishing them well-being and freedom from suffering. After some training, they then were asked to generate such feelings toward all beings without thinking specifically about anyone.

 

Subjects received brain scans from the fMRI scanner

 

Each of the 32 subjects was placed in the fMRI scanner at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Waisman Center for Brain Imaging, which Davidson directs, and was asked to either begin compassion meditation or refrain from it. During each state, subjects were exposed to negative and positive human vocalizations designed to evoke empathic responses as well as neutral vocalizations: sounds of a distressed woman, a baby laughing and background restaurant noise.

 

"We used audio instead of visual challenges so that meditators could keep their eyes slightly open but not focused on any visual stimulus, as is typical of this practice," explains Lutz in the news release. The scans revealed significant activity in the insula - a region near the frontal portion of the brain that plays a key role in bodily representations of emotion - when the long-term meditators were generating compassion and were exposed to emotional vocalizations. The strength of insula activation was also associated with the intensity of the meditation as assessed by the participants.

 

"The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion - such as heart rate and blood pressure - and making that information available to other parts of the brain," says Davidson, also co-director of the HealthEmotions Research Institute, according to the news release.

 

Activity also increased in the temporal parietal juncture, particularly the right hemisphere. Studies have implicated this area as important in processing empathy, especially in perceiving the mental and emotional state of others

 

 

"Both of these areas have been linked to emotion sharing and empathy," Davidson says in the news release. "The combination of these two effects, which was much more noticeable in the expert meditators as opposed to the novices, was very powerful." The findings support Davidson and Lutz's working assumption that through training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion.

 

"People are not just stuck at their respective set points," he explains in the news release. "We can take advantage of our brain's plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities." The capacity to cultivate compassion, which involves regulating thoughts and emotions, may also be useful for preventing depression in people who are susceptible to it, Lutz adds.

"Thinking about other people's suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective," he says in the news release, adding that learning compassion for oneself is a critical first step in compassion meditation.

 

The researchers are interested in teaching compassion meditation to youngsters, particularly as they approach adolescence, as a way to prevent bullying, aggression and violence

 

"I think this can be one of the tools we use to teach emotional regulation to kids who are at an age where they're vulnerable to going seriously off track," Davidson says in the news release. Compassion meditation can be beneficial in promoting more harmonious relationships of all kinds, Davidson adds.

 

"The world certainly could use a little more kindness and compassion," he says in the news release. "Starting at a local level, the consequences of changing in this way can be directly experienced." Lutz and Davidson hope to conduct additional studies to evaluate brain changes that may occur in individuals who cultivate positive emotions through the practice of loving-kindness and compassion over time. You can check out the original study or its abstract, "Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise." It's published in the journal Plos One.

 

Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, Emory study finds

 

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person's ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

 

"It's an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy," says lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University, according to the October 4, 2012 news release, Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, Emory study finds. "Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships."

 

The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation. The research team also included senior author Charles Raison, formerly a psychiatrist at Emory's School of Medicine and currently at the University of Arizona, and Emory anthropologist James Rilling.

 

When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as "mindfulness," in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.

 

"The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," Negi explains in the news release. "CBCT aims to condition one's mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level."

 

Study participants were healthy adults without prior meditation experience

 

Thirteen participants randomized to CBCT meditation completed regular weekly training sessions and at-home practice for eight weeks. Eight randomized control subjects did not meditate, but instead completed health discussion classes that covered mind-body subjects like the effects of exercise and stress on well-being.

 

To test empathic accuracy before and following CBCT, all participants received fMRI brain scans while completing a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The RMET consists of black-and-white photographs that show just the eye region of people making various expressions. Those being tested must judge what the person in the photograph is thinking or feeling.

 

Eight out of the 13 participants in the CBCT meditation group improved their RMET scores by an average of 4.6 percent, while the control participants showed no increase, and in the majority of cases, a decrease in correct answers for the RMET. The meditators, in comparison to those in the control group, also had significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These changes in brain activity accounted for changes in the empathic accuracy scores of the participants.

 

"These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others," Raison says in the October 4, 2012 news release, Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, Emory study finds. "An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression."

 

Findings from the current study add to a growing database indicating that the CBCT style of meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and well-being. For example, previous research at Emory found that practicing CBCT reduced emotional distress and enhanced physical resilience in response to stress in both healthy young adults and in high-risk adolescents in foster care.

 

Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy and improve a person's ability to read facial expressions of other people

 

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person's ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

 

"It's an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy," says lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University, according to the news release. "Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships."

 

The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation

 

The research team also included senior author Charles Raison, formerly a psychiatrist at Emory's School of Medicine and currently at the University of Arizona, and Emory anthropologist James Rilling. When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as "mindfulness," in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.

 

"The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," Negi explains in the news release. "CBCT aims to condition one's mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level."

 

CBCT emphasis is about training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others in addition to mindfulness

 

Study participants were healthy adults without prior meditation experience. Thirteen participants randomized to CBCT meditation completed regular weekly training sessions and at-home practice for eight weeks. Eight randomized control subjects did not meditate, but instead completed health discussion classes that covered mind-body subjects like the effects of exercise and stress on well-being.

 

To test empathic accuracy before and following CBCT, all participants received fMRI brain scans while completing a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The RMET consists of black-and-white photographs that show just the eye region of people making various expressions. Those being tested must judge what the person in the photograph is thinking or feeling.

 

Eight out of the 13 participants in the CBCT meditation group improved their RMET scores by an average of 4.6 percent, while the control participants showed no increase, and in the majority of cases, a decrease in correct answers for the RMET.

The meditators, in comparison to those in the control group, also had significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These changes in brain activity accounted for changes in the empathic accuracy scores of the participants.

 

"These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others," Raison says in the news release, Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, Emory study finds. "An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression."

 

Findings from the current study add to a growing database indicating that the CBCT style of meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and well-being. For example, previous research at Emory found that practicing CBCT reduced emotional distress and enhanced physical resilience in response to stress in both healthy young adults and in high-risk adolescents in foster care.