Imaging tests suggest compassion and empathy can be learned traits
THURSDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that qualities the world desperately needs more of -- love, kindness and compassion -- are indeed teachable.
Imaging technology shows that people who practice meditation that focuses on kindness and compassion actually undergo changes in areas of the brain that make them more in tune to what others are feeling.
"Potentially one can train oneself to behave in a way which is more benevolent and altruistic," said study co-author Antoine Lutz, an associate scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
How far this idea can be extrapolated remains in question, though.
"I think there's no question that people can benefit from these practices," said Dr. Louis Teichholz, medical director of complementary medicine and chief of cardiology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "I think the question is how easy is it to get trained enough so that it will make a clinical difference, and I don't think this study answers that."
The findings were published in the March 26 issue of the Public Library of Science One.
Recent brain-imaging studies have suggested that the insula and the anterior cingulate cortices regions are involved in the empathic response to other people's pain. But not much is known about how cultivating compassion might affect brain circuitry.
And previous research has indicated that meditation may reduce the brain's reaction to pain, and that it may actually improve cardiovascular health by decreasing the risk of metabolic syndrome.
"The main research question was to see whether some positive qualities such as loving-kindness and compassion or, in general, pro-social altruistic behavior, can be understood as skills and can be trained," Lutz explained.
In the same way that training in sports or ches
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