Can you train yourself to be compassionate? A new study says, yes. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make you more empathetic to other peoples' mental and emotional states.
According to Richard Davidson, the lead researcher, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the HeathEmotions Research Institute, who studied a group of Tibetan monks who were master meditators, they exhibited significant activity in the brain's insula, which is important in detecting emotions and monitoring responses such as heart rate and blood pressure. In addition the temporal parietal juncture area of the right brain, associated with processing empathy became very active. Davidson reported that these two areas of the brain, studied with an fMRI, underwent significant activation in the test subjects.
The researchers concluded that an individual's capacity to cultivate compassion which involves regulating thoughts and emotions, may be useful in preventing depression, and that self-compassion, which is a necessary first step in developing compassion for others can be developed through compassionate meditation.
In another study by researchers at Emory University's center for Collaborative and Contemplative Studies, researchers concluded that compassionate meditation improved individuals' responses to stress. They reported that the test subjects, practicing compassionate meditation, showed reductions in inflammation and distress in response to stressors. This study reflects numerous studies which show that meditation is an effective method for controlling high blood pressure.
Together these two studies demonstrate that practicing compassionate meditation can be beneficial both to the individual and in relationships with others.