Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Brain and behavioral correlates of compassion training.

Davidson and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have
...investigated whether short-term compassion training would enhance altruistic behavior toward a victim encountered outside of the training context. Altruistic behavior was assessed using the redistribution game, a novel economic decision-making task that models both unfair treatment of a victim and costly redistribution of funds to the victim.
Training consisted of practicing either compassion or reappraisal using guided audio instructions (via the Internet or compact disc) for 30 min per day for 2 weeks. Compassion trainees practiced cultivating feelings of compassion for different targets (a loved one, the self, a stranger, and a difficult person), and reappraisal trainees practiced reinterpreting personally stressful events to decrease negative affect. [note: in reappraisal training the psychological goal is self-focused (to decrease one’s own suffering) rather than other-focused (to decrease other people’s suffering through compassion).]
Here is their abstract:
Compassion is a key motivator of altruistic behavior, but little is known about individuals’ capacity to cultivate compassion through training. We examined whether compassion may be systematically trained by testing whether (a) short-term compassion training increases altruistic behavior and (b) individual differences in altruism are associated with training-induced changes in neural responses to suffering. In healthy adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context. Furthermore, increased altruistic behavior after compassion training was associated with altered activation in brain regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation, including the inferior parietal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and in DLPFC connectivity with the nucleus accumbens. These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training and that greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.

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