Different Meditation Types Produce Different Effects on Attention, Compassion, and Theory of Mind

Different Meditation Types Produce Different Effects on Attention, Compassion, and Theory of Mind

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The mental procedures used by various traditions and schools of meditation are fairly dissimilar. And recent scientific research has verified that these different ways of meditating activate different areas in our brain.” – Trancendental Meditation

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for affecting different psychological areas.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin. In Loving Kindness Meditation the individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential benefits of mental training types for attention, compassion, and theory of mind.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891878/), Trautwein and colleagues recruited healthy adults and assigned them to one of three conditions; presence, affect, and perspective training. Each condition consisted of a 3-day retreat followed by once a week 2-hour training session for 13 weeks along with daily home practice. The presence training focused on attention to the present moment and contained focused breath meditation, walking meditation, and body scan practices. The affect training focused on developing an “accepting, kind, and compassionate stance towards oneself and others” and contained loving kindness meditation, forgiveness meditation, and affect dyad practices. The perspective training focused on the central role that thoughts play in our lives and contained meditation of observing thoughts coming and going and perspective dyads. They were measured before and after training with a cued flanker task measuring executive control and attentional reorienting and a Theory of Mind and Social Cognition task measuring social cognitive and affective functions including compassion. Theory of mind refers to the ability to observe self-awareness in self and others.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the other modules, the presence training significantly improved executive control and attentional reorienting. They also found that the affect and perspective training produced significant improvements in the socio-emotional dimension of compassion. Finally, they found that perspective training produced significantly higher scores on Theory of Mind (understanding beliefs, desires, and needs of others). Hence the three different forms of mindfulness training affected different abilities.

 

The findings suggest that training on present moment awareness affects attentional abilities but not socio-emotional and theory of mind abilities. On the other hand, affect training affects socio-emotional abilities including compassion but not attention or theory of mind abilities. Finally, the results suggest that perspective training affects socio-emotional and theory of mind abilities but not attentional abilities. These findings suggest that different mindfulness training programs should be employed to target specific problem areas for the participant. They also suggest that incorporating components from presence, affect, and perspective training may produce a training package that enhances abilities in all domains.

 

So, different meditation types produce different effects on attention, compassion, and theory of mind.

 

“Meditation is a simple strategy that can help obtain better health and a happier life. It takes time to master, as does any other skill. If a person sticks with it and is willing to experiment with the different methods, they are more likely to discover a meditation style that suits them.” – Zawn Villines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Trautwein, F. M., Kanske, P., Böckler, A., & Singer, T. (2020). Differential benefits of mental training types for attention, compassion, and theory of mind. Cognition, 194, 104039. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104039

 

Abstract

Mindfulness- and, more generally, meditation-based interventions increasingly gain popularity, effectively promoting cognitive, affective, and social capacities. It is unclear, however, if different types of practice have the same or specific effects on mental functioning. Here we tested three consecutive three-month training modules aimed at cultivating either attention, socio-affective qualities (such as compassion), or socio-cognitive skills (such as theory of mind), in three training cohorts and a retest control cohort (N = 332). While attentional performance improved most consistently after attention training, compassion increased most after socio-affective training and theory of mind partially improved after socio-cognitive training. These results show that specific mental training practices are needed to induce plasticity in different domains of mental functioning, providing a foundation for evidence-based development of more targeted interventions adapted to the needs of different education, labor, and health settings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891878/

 

Meditation Comes in Seven Different Varieties

Meditation Comes in Seven Different Varieties

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Experienced meditators agree: a daily meditation practice can have significant benefits for mental and physical health. But one thing they probably won’t agree on? The most effective types of meditation. That’s simply because it’s different for everyone. After all, there are literally hundreds of meditation techniques encompassing practices from different traditions, cultures, spiritual disciplines, and religions.” Headspace

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object. Transcendental meditation is a silent mantra-based focused meditation in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over again. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. In Loving Kindness Meditation the individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

But there are a number of techniques that do not fall into these categories and even within these categories there are a number of large variations. In today’s Research News article “What Is Meditation? Proposing an Empirically Derived Classification System.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6803504/), Matko and colleagues attempt to develop a more comprehensive system of classification. They found 309 different techniques but reduced them down to the 20 most popular ones. They recruited 100 meditators with at least 2 years of experience and asked them to rate how similar each technique was to every other technique.

 

They applied multidimensional scaling to the data which uncovered two dimensions that adequately described all of the 20 techniques. The analysis revealed a dimension of the amount of activation involved and a dimension of the amount of body orientation involved. All 20 techniques were classified within these two dimensions. Visual inspection of where the various techniques fell on the two dimensions produces 7 different clusters labelled as “(1) Body-centered meditation, (2) mindful observation, (3) contemplation, (4) mantra meditation, (5) visual concentration, (6) affect-centered meditation, and (7) meditation with movement.”

 

Within the high activation and low body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “Mantra Meditation” including singing sutras/mantras/invocations, repeating syllables and meditation with sounds. Within the low activation and low body orientation quadrant there were three clusters identified, labelled “affect-centered meditation” including cultivating compassion and opening up to blessings; “visual orientations” including visualizations and concentrating on an object; and “contemplation” including contemplating on a question and contradictions or paradoxes.

 

Within the high activation and high body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “meditation with movement” including “meditation with movement, manipulating the breath, and walking and observing senses. Within the low activation and high body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “mindful observation” including observing thoughts, lying meditation, and sitting in silence. Finally, they identified a cluster with high body but straddling the activation dimension, labelled “body centered meditation” including concentrating on a energy centers or channeling, body scan, abdominal breath, nostril breath, and observing the body.

 

This 7-category classification system is interesting and based upon the ratings of experienced meditators. So, there is reason to believe that there is a degree of validity. In addition, the system is able to encompass 20 different popular meditation techniques. It remains for future research to investigate whether this classification system is useful in better understanding the effects of meditation or the underlying brain systems.

 

Not all meditation styles are right for everyone. These practices require different skills and mindsets. How do you know which practice is right for you? “It’s what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice,” – Mira Dessy

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Matko, K., & Sedlmeier, P. (2019). What Is Meditation? Proposing an Empirically Derived Classification System. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2276. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02276

 

Abstract

Meditation is an umbrella term, which subsumes a huge number of diverse practices. It is still unclear how these practices can be classified in a reasonable way. Earlier proposals have struggled to do justice to the diversity of meditation techniques. To help in solving this issue, we used a novel bottom-up procedure to develop a comprehensive classification system for meditation techniques. In previous studies, we reduced 309 initially identified techniques to the 20 most popular ones. In the present study, 100 experienced meditators were asked to rate the similarity of the selected 20 techniques. Using multidimensional scaling, we found two orthogonal dimensions along which meditation techniques could be classified: activation and amount of body orientation. These dimensions emphasize the role of embodied cognition in meditation. Within these two dimensions, seven main clusters emerged: mindful observation, body-centered meditation, visual concentration, contemplation, affect-centered meditation, mantra meditation, and meditation with movement. We conclude there is no “meditation” as such, but there are rather different groups of techniques that might exert diverse effects. These groups call into question the common division into “focused attention” and “open-monitoring” practices. We propose a new embodied classification system and encourage researchers to evaluate this classification system through comparative studies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6803504/

 

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Fine-tuning which type of mindfulness or meditation someone uses as a prescriptive to treat a specific need will most likely be the next big advance in the public health revolution of mindfulness and meditation.” – Christopher Bergland

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment. They are also similar to many religious and spiritual practices. There are large differences between these practices that are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. But what those differences are is not known. In today’s Research News article “Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Montero-Marin and colleagues explore the different effects of these practices on the psychological well-being of practitioners.

 

They recruited adult participants online and had them complete measures of happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. They were also asked to indicate the amount of prayer, and the types and amounts of meditation practices engaged in, including open monitoring, focused, and compassion meditation types.

 

They found that positive psychological states were associated with the amount of the various meditation practices and not particularly with religiosity or prayer. They found that the amount of focused meditation practice was significantly related to all measures of psychological adjustment, including happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. On the other hand, open monitoring practice was significantly associated with self-regulation of negative emotions and compassion meditation was significantly related to positive emotions and happiness.

 

These are interesting results that are cross-sectional and correlative. So, care must be taken in concluding causation. Nevertheless, the results suggest that meditation practice has positive benefits for the psychological state of the practitioner that are superior to religious practices. It appears that focused meditation practice has the greatest benefits while compassion meditation may help increase happiness and open monitoring meditation may help with dealing with negative emotions. Previous research has indicated some additional benefits of religiosity, prayer, and focused, open monitoring, and compassion meditation techniques. It remains for future research to better clarify the advantages and disadvantages of each of these meditation types.

 

So, improve psychological adjustment with meditation.

 

”For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical wellbeing, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.” – Zawn Villines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Montero-Marin J, Perez-Yus MC, Cebolla A, Soler J, Demarzo M and Garcia-Campayo J (2019) Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment. Front. Psychol. 10:630. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630

 

There has been increased interest in the relationships between religiosity, meditation practice and well-being, but there is lack of understanding as to how specific religious components and distinct meditation practices could influence different positive and negative psychological adjustment outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess the explanatory power of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, focused attention (FA), open monitoring (OM), and compassion meditation (CM) on psychological adjustment, taking into consideration a number of practice-related variables such as session length, frequency of practice and lifetime practice. Psychological adjustment was assessed by means of happiness, positive affect, depression, negative affect, and emotional overproduction. A cross-sectional design was used, with a final sample comprising 210 Spanish participants who completed an online assessment protocol. Hierarchical regressions were performed, including age, sex and psychotropic medication use in the first step as possible confounders, with the addition of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, FA, OM, and CM in the second step. FA session length was related to all psychological adjustment outcomes: happiness (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.25, p = 0.001), positive affect (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.18, p = 0.014), depression (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.004; β = -0.27, p < 0.001), negative affect (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = -0.27, p < 0.001) and emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.013; β = -0.23, p = 0.001). CM session length was related to positive affect (β = 0.18, p = 0.011). CM practice frequency was associated with happiness (ΔR2 = 0.06, p = 0.038; β = 0.16, p = 0.041). Lifetime practice of FA was related to happiness (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = 0.21, p = 0.030) and OM to emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.037; β = -0.19, p = 0.047). Religious beliefs and prayer seemed to be less relevant than meditation practices such as FA, OM, and CM in explaining psychological adjustment. The distinct meditation practices might be differentially related to distinct psychological adjustment outcomes through different practice-related variables. However, research into other forms of institutional religiosity integrating social aspects of religion is required.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A

 

Reduce Anxiety and Depression in Stressed College Students with Mindfulness

Reduce Anxiety and Depression in Stressed College Students with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is so vital. It’s being right there in the moment. It helps you be successful in everything you do. College students are under a lot of stress — that’s been a given forever. Now, they have the tools in their pocket.” – Cathleen Hardy Hansen

 

In the modern world education is a key for success. Where a high school education was sufficient in previous generations, a college degree is now required to succeed in the new knowledge-based economies. There is a lot of pressure on students to excel so that they can be admitted to the best universities and there is a lot of pressure on university students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. As a result, parents and students are constantly looking for ways to improve student performance in school. The primary tactic has been to pressure the student and clear away routine tasks and chores so that the student can focus on their studies. But, this might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s mental health, well-being, and school performance.

 

It is, for the most part, beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the college students’ responses to stress; to make them more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices including meditationmindfulness training, and yoga practice have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. So, it would seem important to examine various techniques to relieve the stress and its consequent symptoms in college students.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Attention Training Technique and Mindful Self-Compassion for Students with Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00827/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_662896_69_Psycho_20180605_arts_A ), Haukaas and colleagues explore the ability of attention training and mindfulness training to help relieve the anxiety and depression in college students resulting from stress.

 

They recruited undergraduate and graduate students who self-reported depression, anxiety, and stress. They were randomly assigned to receive 3 group sessions for 45 minutes for three consecutive weeks of either Attention Training or Mindfulness and Self-Compassion training. Each training included daily home practice with pre-recorded audio recordings. Attention training was designed “to strengthen attentional control and promote external focus of attention, to interrupt and break free of the cognitive attentional syndrome, consisting of prolonged worry or rumination, threat monitoring, and different unhelpful coping styles accompanied by a heightened self-focused attention.” Mindfulness and Self-Compassion training consisted of training to pay attention to the present moment and “to relate to oneself in a kinder and more accepting manner.” Training including Loving Kindness Meditation practice. Participants were measured before and after training for depression, anxiety, self-compassion, responses to thoughts, and mindfulness.

 

They found that both Attention Training and Mindfulness and Self-Compassion training produced significant reductions in general and test anxiety and depression and significant increases in mindfulness, self-compassion, attention flexibility, and self-esteem. The effects were moderate to large indicating fairly powerful effects of the treatments. It should be noted that there wasn’t a control condition and both treatments were associated with significant changes. It is thus possible that confound or bias was present that could account for some or all of the changes. But, the effects were strong and commensurate with previous findings that mindfulness training reduces anxiety and depression and increases self-compassion. Thus, it would appear that the two treatments are effective for improving the psychological health of stressed university students.

 

So, reduce anxiety and depression in stressed college students with mindfulness and attention training.

 

“taking time to catch your breath and meditate can help increase students’ overall life satisfaction. We found that underneath the stress that students are experiencing is a deep desire to appreciate life and feel meaningful connections with other people.” – Kamila Dvorakova

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Haukaas RB, Gjerde IB, Varting G, Hallan HE and Solem S (2018) A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Attention Training Technique and Mindful Self-Compassion for Students With Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety. Front. Psychol. 9:827. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00827

 

The Attention Training Technique (ATT) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) are two promising psychological interventions. ATT is a 12-min auditory exercise designed to strengthen attentional control and promote external focus of attention, while MSC uses guided meditation and exercises designed to promote self-compassion. In this randomized controlled trial (RCT), a three-session intervention trial was conducted in which university students were randomly assigned to either an ATT-group (n = 40) or a MSC-group (n = 41). The students were not assessed with diagnostic interviews but had self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress. Participants listened to audiotapes of ATT or MSC before discussing in groups how to apply these principles for their everyday struggles. Participants also listened to audiotapes of ATT and MSC as homework between sessions. Participants in both groups showed significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression accompanied by significant increases in mindfulness, self-compassion, and attention flexibility post-intervention. These results were maintained at 6-month follow-up. Improvement in attention flexibility was the only significant unique predictor of treatment response. The study supports the use of both ATT and MSC for students with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Further, it suggests that symptom improvement is related to changes in attention flexibility across both theoretical frameworks. Future studies should focus on how to strengthen the ability for attention flexibility to optimize treatment for emotional disorder.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00827/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_662896_69_Psycho_20180605_arts_A

 

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in.“ – Patricia Rockman

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In “Presence” meditation, also known as focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. “Perspective” meditation is another different method of cultivating mindfulness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention. A third “Affect” meditation technique, e.g. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/ ), the effects of the various meditation techniques on mindfulness and compassion were compared. Hildebrandt and colleagues recruited healthy adults without meditation experience and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions; the first practiced “Presence”, “Affect”, and “Perspective” conditions in counterbalanced order, while the second constituted a retest control. The conditions were practiced daily at home for 13 weeks and involved a weekly 2-hour training session. In the “Presence” condition the participants practiced as focused attention meditation and body scan meditation In the “Affect” condition the participants practiced Loving Kindness Meditation and engaged in affect dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day something that they were grateful for, In the “Perspective” condition the participants practiced observing thoughts meditation and engaged in perspective dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day “a situation from the perspective of one of one’s own inner parts.”  The retest control participants were matched on mindfulness with the practice participants. All participants were measured before and after each condition for mindfulness, compassion, fear of compassion, and self-compassion.

 

They found that, compared to the retest control condition all three meditation conditions led to increased mindfulness presence, observing, and non-reacting, but only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions produced significant increases in the mindfulness non-judging, accepting, and compassion scales. The “Affect” condition produced additional significant increases in the compassion scales. Hence, different mindfulness practices produced different patterns of change in mindfulness and compassion.

 

Practicing focused meditation appears to improve present moment awareness and the ability to not react to its contents. Practicing observing thoughts appeared to not only improve these mindfulness components but also improved the ability to accept and not judge what is occurring. On the other hand, practicing Loving Kindness Meditation appears to improve all of these mindfulness components and in addition improve compassion. Hence, it appears that “Affect” meditation may be a superior technique for promoting both mindfulness and compassion.

 

These results are surprising as focused attention meditation has long been the most commonly taught practice, yet it was the least effective. It should be mentioned, however, that the present study was unusual in including dyadic discussions in only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions and not the “Presence” condition. These dyadic discussions may have been crucial in producing the enhanced effectiveness’ of these practices. It remains for future research to investigate this possibility.

 

This study is an important beginning in documenting the different effects of different meditation techniques. This may lead to better application of meditation tailored for the specific needs of the individual, leading to improved health and well-being.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Hildebrandt, L. K., McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2017). Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1488–1512. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0716-z

 

Abstract

Research on the effects of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions is flourishing along with self-report scales to assess facets of these broad concepts. However, debates remain as to which mental practices are most appropriate to develop the attentional, cognitive, and socio-affective facets of mindfulness and compassion. One crucial question is whether present-moment, attention-focused mindfulness practices are sufficient to induce a cascade of changes across the different proposed facets of mindfulness, including nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as compassion or whether explicit socio-affective training is required. Here, we address these questions in the context of a 9-month longitudinal study (the ReSource Project) by examining the differential effects of three different 3-month mental training modules on subscales of mindfulness and compassion questionnaires. The “Presence” module, which aimed at cultivating present-moment-focused attention and body awareness, led to increases in the observing, nonreacting, and presence subscales, but not to increases in acceptance or nonjudging. These latter facets benefitted from specific cultivation through the socio-cognitive “Perspective” module and socio-affective, compassion-based “Affect” module, respectively. These modules also led to further increases in scores on the subscales affected by the Presence module. Moreover, scores on the compassion scales were uniquely influenced by the Affect module. Thus, whereas a present-moment attention-focused training, as implemented in many mindfulness-based programs, was indeed able to increase attentional facets of mindfulness, only socio-cognitive and compassion-based practices led to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/

Improve Emotional Well-Being with Mindfulness

Improve Emotional Well-Being with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is about offering a warm, kind, friendly, accepting awareness to your moment-by-moment experience (all positive emotions), whatever that may be. For this reason, any practice of mindfulness, in the long term, develops your ability to generate positive feeling towards your inner (thoughts, emotions) and outer (world) experience.” – Anonymous

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to produce improved emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

Two types of meditation practices are the commonly used. Loving kindness meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. In mindfulness meditation, the individual either practices paying attention to a single meditation object, or the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. In both cases, the meditator learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, staying focused on the present moment, and filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. The meditator just observes the stimuli present and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

There has been very little research on the relative effectiveness of these two very different types of meditation practice. In addition, there has been little attention paid to the growth and development in the benefits of practice over time. In today’s Research News article “Positive Emotion Correlates of Meditation Practice: a Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving-Kindness Meditation.” (See summary below). Fredrickson and colleagues compare Loving kindness meditation to mindfulness meditation practice effects on the growth of positive emotions as practice continues.

 

They recruited meditation-naive adults between the ages of 34 to 64 years and randomly assigned them to a wait-list control group or to receive 1-hour once per week for 6 weeks training in either loving kindness meditation or mindfulness meditation. Participants were asked to practice at home 3 to 5 times per week. Beginning with the start of training, participants completed daily on-line reports for 9 weeks of their meditation practice and their emotional states of 10 positive emotions (amusement, awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, joy, love, pride, and serenity) and 10 negative emotions (anger, shame, fear, hate, disgust, embarrassment, guilt, sadness, scorn, and stress).

 

They found that the participants in both meditation conditions had significant increases in positive emotions and the groups did not differ. Negative emotions were not affected. Hence, both loving kindness meditation and mindfulness meditation improved the participants mood equivalently. The improvements in positive emotions increased linearly over the 9 weeks of measurement, with the emotional state becoming more and more positive every day. They also found that the more the participants practiced the larger the improvements in their positive emotional states.

 

These are interesting results that indicate that meditation, regardless of type, leads to greater happiness and the more practice, both in frequency and duration, the greater the benefit which grows day by day. It would be interesting in future studies to continue collecting data for a longer period of time to determine when the growth in benefits begins to taper off. The fact that there was no effect on negative emotions may have been due to the fact that these otherwise normal participants did not have very high levels of negative emotions to start with. Again, future research should include individuals with high levels of negative emotions. Regardless, it is clear that meditation practice incrementally improves mood with continued practice.

 

So, improve emotional well-being with mindfulness.

 

“Meditation gives you the wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind can exaggerate the severity of a setback, and resist getting drawn back into the abyss.”— Richie Davidson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Fredrickson, B.L., Boulton, A.J., Firestine, A.M. et al. Positive Emotion Correlates of Meditation Practice: a Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving-Kindness Meditation. Mindfulness (2017). doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0735-9

 

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to uncover the day-to-day emotional profiles and dose-response relations, both within persons and between persons, associated with initiating one of two meditation practices, either mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation. Data were pooled across two studies of midlife adults (N = 339) who were randomized to learn either mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation in a 6-week workshop. The duration and frequency of meditation practice was measured daily for 9 weeks, commencing with the first workshop session. Likewise, positive and negative emotions were also measured daily, using the modified Differential Emotions Scale (Fredrickson, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 47:1–53, 2013). Analysis of daily emotion reports over the targeted 9-week period showed significant gains in positive emotions and no change in negative emotions, regardless of meditation type. Multilevel models also revealed significant dose-response relations between duration of meditation practice and positive emotions, both within persons and between persons. Moreover, the within-person dose-response relation was stronger for loving-kindness meditation than for mindfulness meditation. Similar dose-response relations were observed for the frequency of meditation practice. In the context of prior research on the mental and physical health benefits produced by subtle increases in day-to-day experiences of positive emotions, the present research points to evidence-based practices—both mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation—that can improve emotional well-being.

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.” – Emma Seppala

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions. One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention. In today’s Research News article “Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below). Weibel and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to a wait-list control condition or to practice Loving Kindness Meditation at 4 weekly, 90 minute sessions and were encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before and after the 4-week training period and 8 weeks later for anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion.

 

They found that following treatment, in comparison to the wait-list control participants, the Loving Kindness Meditation participants demonstrated significant increases in compassionate love, and self-compassion, including the self-kindness and common humanity subscales. At the 8-week follow-up, only the self-kindness subscale remained significant. Hence, the practice of Loving Kindness Meditation was found to enhance compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

These are disappointing results. Loving Kindness Meditation is a practice of directing compassion and kindness toward the self and others. So, these results only show that practicing compassion and kindness produces compassion and kindness. The failure to show any effects on anxiety suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation may not have effects beyond what it is designed to target.

 

There are a number of studies that show significant effects for Loving Kindness Meditation on a wide variety of physical and psychological issues. So, it would appear likely that the lack of effectiveness seen in the current study was due to the particular characteristics of this study. Perhaps, the brief, 4-week, duration of the practice was insufficient. Perhaps, other psychological characteristics than anxiety needed to be measured. Perhaps college students are not an appropriate group for Loving Kindness Meditation. Perhaps, placebo effects accounted for the differences in compassion and kindness. Regardless, it is clear that the current study does not demonstrate significant effects of Loving Kindness Meditation beyond what it practices; compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

“More than just a feel-good practice, compassion meditation leads to improved mood, more altruistic behavior, less anger, reduced stress and decreased maladaptive mind wandering, according to recent research.” – Stacey Colino

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Weibel, D.T., McClintock, A.S. & Anderson, T. Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 565. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0630-9

 

Abstract

Although loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has shown some promise as a psychological intervention, little is known about the effectiveness of LKM for reducing one of the most prevalent mental health problems: anxiety. To build knowledge in this area, we conducted a randomized controlled trial, assigning non-clinical undergraduates to either a four-session, group-based LKM intervention (n = 38) or a waitlist control (n = 33). Self-reported anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion were assessed at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 8-week follow-up. Relative to control participants, participants in the LKM intervention reported higher compassionate love and self-compassion at posttreatment and higher self-kindness (a component of self-compassion) at follow-up. Anxiety ratings did not significantly differ between conditions at posttreatment or follow-up. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Improve Social and Nature Connectedness with Meditation

Improve Social and Nature Connectedness with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation is a contemplative practice focused on self-generated emotions of compassion, love, and goodwill toward oneself and others. . . individuals who regularly practiced loving-kindness meditation for approximately 2 months experienced significant increases in self-reported positive emotions, such as joy, awe, and gratitude. . .  they also reported a stronger sense of social connectedness. . . individuals in the loving-kindness meditation group perceived themselves as being closer and more “in tune” with others during social interactions.” – Laura Schenck

 

We are social animals. Alone we are weak and vulnerable and would not have fared well in evolution. But, in concert with others we have dominated our world. By working together in organized societies, we have not only been able to provide for a vast population but create technical wonders expanding interpersonal interaction possibilities. It is obvious that we are connected to and depend upon one another and that, in general, is a good thing. All that the species has accomplished resulted from the ability to work together cooperatively and build upon the work of others.

 

Beyond, the importance of the group, interactions with other people are fundamental to personal well-being. People need to be with and connected with others. Social connections are crucial to our health and happiness. Hence, it is very important for the individual to have effective satisfying social relationships. Unfortunately, interacting with other people is extremely complex and many find it very difficult to effectively engage with others. Some are better than others, but everyone struggles with human connections to some extent. Hence it is important for us to find ways to improve how we connect with other people.

 

Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is specifically designed to develop positive feelings toward the self and others.  In LKM the meditator focuses on repeatedly wishing positive things, wellness, safety, happiness, health etc. for oneself and toward multiple other people from loved ones to enemies. LKM and other mindfulness practices have been shown to improve positive mood and improve social interactions. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation.” (See summary below). Aspy and Proeve examine the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve connectedness to others and to nature.

 

They recruited college students who were occasional meditators and randomly assigned them to complete either a 15-minute recorded guided mindfulness meditation, Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM), or relaxation session. Before and after the session they completed measures of positive and negative emotions, social connectedness, and connectedness to nature. The entire study was conducted over the internet. So, they included objective questions regarding the recordings to insure that the participants actually completed the appropriate 15-minute session. 24% of the original participants were excluded for providing incorrect answers.

 

They found that the two meditation groups had significantly higher social connectedness, and connectedness to nature than the relaxation group. But, there were no significant differences between the mindfulness meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) groups. In addition, there were no significant differences between the three groups in positive and negative emotions. Hence, brief meditations appear to increase connectedness socially and to nature without altering mood.

 

It has been well established that both mindfulness meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions. It is likely that a single brief meditation is not sufficient to improve mood. But, it is interesting that connectedness was improved. This makes sense for Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) as it includes thoughts about others. But mindfulness meditation does not, focusing on the breath and bodily sensations. But, mindfulness meditation has been shown previously to improve social behavior. So, although the two types of meditation have the same effect on connectedness, they may do so in different ways.

 

So, improve social and nature connectedness with meditation.

 

“Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others. . . compassion, kindness and empathy are very basic emotions to us. Research shows that Loving Kindness Meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits ranging from benefitting well-being, to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence.” – Emma Seppälä

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Denholm J. Aspy, Michael Proeve. Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation. Psychological Reports, Vol 120, Issue 1, pp. 102 – 117, 2017. 10.1177/0033294116685867

 

Abstract

An experiment involving 115 undergraduate students (74.8% females; mean age = 20.5 years, SD = 4.3) was conducted to explore effects of meditation on social connectedness, nature connectedness, and affect. Participants listened to one of three brief guided meditation Mp3 recordings via the internet, which involved mindfulness meditation (MM), loving-kindness meditation (LKM), or progressive muscle relaxation (active control group). Participants in the MM and LKM groups reported greater social and nature connectedness at post-test than those in the control group. There were no significant differences in connectedness between the MM and LKM groups, suggesting they are both effective for enhancing connectedness. There were no significant changes in negative or positive affect at post-test due to the interventions. Recommendations for future research are provided.

Increase Connectedness by Meditating in Pairs

Increase Connectedness by Meditating in Pairs

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Couples meditation provides a great way for you and your partner to tune your instruments to one another. By taking a few minutes to meditate with your partner, you greatly increase your chances of having meaningful conversation and intimate connection. Couples meditation is a way of bringing your emotional state and psychological rhythms into alignment.” –  John Wise

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions. Also, meditation occurs in a variety of social conditions. It is practiced, alone, with another, dyad, or with groups of varying sizes. It is not known what the effects, if any, of these different social conditions might be on the effectiveness of meditation practice.

 

Four types of meditation are the most commonly used practices for research purposes. In body scan meditation, the individual focuses on the feelings and sensations of specific parts of the body, systematically moving attention from one area to another. Loving kindness meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these stimuli and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Contemplative Dyads on Engagement and Perceived Social Connectedness Over 9 Months of Mental Training: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” See:summary below, Kok and Singer investigate the effectiveness of loving kindness meditation and open monitoring meditation practiced in dyads; meditating in pairs. They recruited normal adults aged between 20 to 55 and randomly assigned them to two different orders of conditions in a complex research design. Training in meditation began with a 3-day retreat, followed by 3 months of home-based breath focused attention and body scan meditations practiced in pairs, dyads. The first group of participants then spent 3 months practicing loving kindness meditation in combination with a taking turns for 5-minutes describing feelings and bodily sensations during a difficult situation. The next 3 months they practiced open monitoring meditation in combination with a taking turns for 5-minutes describing a recent situation from the perspective of a randomly assigned “inner part.,” e.g. “the judge” or “the loving mother.” The second group reversed the order to these home-based 3-month dyadic practices.  The participants reported daily on their feeling states, contents of thought, meta-cognition, closeness to their partner, valence, and arousal.

 

They found that the participants liked the loving kindness meditation segment best. Self-disclosures increased and became more personal over the training but this did not differ between conditions. Both conditions also produced significant increases in felt closeness to the partner, but the loving kindness meditation segment produced the greatest increase and the fastest rate of increase in this sense of connectedness.

 

These results suggest that meditating in pairs is an effective technique producing the usual benefits of meditation and also a social benefit of increasing felt closeness and self-disclosure. This could help in relieving loneliness that is often associated with depression. Loving kindness meditation appeared to be best in promoting these social benefits. Future research needs to investigate the impact of this improved social connectedness on the physical and mental health of the participants. This research is a step in the right direction of better understanding the consequences of different meditation types performed in different social conditions. Such an understanding should improve the targeting of specific meditation techniques to specific physical or psychological needs.

 

So, increase connectedness by meditating in pairs.

 

 “If you are partnered perhaps either you haven’t felt as connected as you used to or things are going great but you want to make them even better. In either case, meditating together daily, or as often as possible, could make a big difference in the quality of your relationship.” – Your Tango

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Kok BE, Singer T. Effects of Contemplative Dyads on Engagement and Perceived Social Connectedness Over 9 Months of Mental Training A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 28, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.3360

 

Key Points

Question  Can 2 newly developed dyadic contemplative exercises increase perceived social connectedness?

Findings  In this randomized clinical trial of 242 healthy adults, social closeness increased during a 10-minute dyadic practice session for both the socioaffective affect dyad and the sociocognitive perspective dyad. Furthermore, predyad social closeness and self-disclosure increased significantly for both dyads over the 3 months of a given training module.

Meaning  Contemplative dyadic exercises may effectively prevent or reduce the detrimental effects of loneliness and the social deficits often observed in many psychopathologies by increasing perceived social connectedness.

Abstract

IMPORTANCE:

Loneliness is a risk factor for depression and other illnesses and may be caused and reinforced by maladaptive social cognition. Secularized classical meditation training programs address social cognition, but practice typically occurs alone. Little is known about the effectiveness of contemplative practice performed in dyads.

OBJECTIVE:

To introduce and assess the effectiveness of contemplative dyadic practices relative to classical-solitary meditation with regard to engagement and perceived social connectedness.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS:

The ReSource Project was a 9-month open-label efficacy trial of three, 3-month secularized mental training modules. Replacement randomization was used to assign 362 healthy participants in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany. Eligible participants were recruited between November 11, 2012, and February 13, 2013, and between November 13, 2013, and April 30, 2014. Intention-to-treat analyses were conducted.

INTERVENTIONS:

Breathing meditation and body scan (the presence module), loving-kindness meditation and affect dyad (the affect module), and observing-thoughts meditation and perspective dyad (the perspective module).

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES:

Primary outcomes were self-disclosure and social closeness. Engagement measures included compliance (ie, the mean [95% margin of error] number of meditation sessions that a participant engaged in per week), liking, and motivation to practice.

RESULTS:

Thirty participants dropped out after assignment to 3 experimental groups; 90 participants were assigned to a retest control that did not complete the main outcome measures; 16 participants provided no state-change data for the affect and perspective modules (226 remaining participants; mean age of 41.15 years; 59.3% female). Results are aggregated across training cohorts. Compliance was similar across the modules: loving-kindness meditation (3.78 [0.18] sessions), affect dyad (3.59 [0.14] sessions), observing-thoughts meditation (3.63 [0.20] sessions), and perspective dyad (3.24 [0.18] sessions). Motivation was higher for meditation (11.20 [0.40] sessions) than the dyads (9.26 [0.43] sessions) and was higher for the affect dyad (10.11 [0.46] sessions) than the perspective dyad (8.41 [0.46] sessions). Social closeness increased during a session for the affect dyad (1.49 [0.12] sessions) and the perspective dyad (1.06 [0.12] sessions) and increased over time for the affect dyad (slope of 0.016 [0.003]) and the perspective dyad (slope of 0.012 [0.003]). Self-disclosure increased over time for the affect dyad (slope of 0.023 [0.004]) and the perspective dyad (slope of 0.006 [0.005]), increasing more steeply for the affect dyad (P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE:

Contemplative dyads elicited engagement similar to classical contemplative practices and increased perceived social connectedness. Contemplative dyads represent a new type of intervention targeting social connectedness and intersubjective capacities deficient in participants who experience loneliness and in many psychopathologies.

Improve Seeing Others as Like the Self with Loving Kindness Meditation

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. . . . this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. . . . it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.”” – Christine Carter

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of the factors that lead to and improve empathy and compassion. One method that appears to be able to increase these capacities is Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It has been shown to amplify positive emotions, altruism, and compassion. This suggests that LKM may reduce the perceived difference between the self and other people. This is difficult to study, however, as these capacities are not easily measured and require length, indirect, paper and pencil, tests for assessment.

 

An alternative assessment technique is to measure the electrical response of the brain (electroencephalogram, EEG) as an indicator of empathy and compassion. This can be done by investigating differences in the brains processing of stimuli related to the self, relative to those related to other people. Upon presentation of these stimuli differences in the brain’s response can be seen called the evoked potential (ERP). The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) occurs between 3 to 6-tenths of a second following the stimulus presentation. It is a positive change that is maximally measured over the central frontal lobe. The P300 response has been associated with self-processing. It is larger in response to stimuli such as one’s own name, face, or information about the person’s history. So, the P300 response is often used as a measure of the processing of information about the self, with the larger the positive change the greater the self-processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1441662135857708/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

Trautwein and colleagues employ the P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) in response to pictures of the self or a close friend to investigate the effectiveness of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve empathy and compassion in humans. They recruited adult long-term practitioners of LKM and a group of age, gender, handedness, and education matched non-meditators. The participants were asked to press a button every time a picture of either themselves of their friend was presented amid a series of other stimuli. This occurred on 20% of the time. They measured performed this task while wearing scalp electrodes to measure the EEG and the P300 response to these stimuli was recorded.

 

They found that, as expected, the LKM practitioners reported experiencing more compassionate love for strangers and all of humanity than control participants. They also found that, as expected, the P300 response in the parietal lobe of the brain was greater to the picture of the self than the friend. As a measure of the degree to which the participant viewed the self and other as similar, they measured the difference in the ERP response to the self vs. friend picture. They found that the smaller the difference between the self vs. friend P300 response the greater the levels of self-reported compassion. Importantly, they also found that the greater the amount of LKM practice the smaller the difference in the P300 response to self and friend.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) improves empathy and compassion by altering the brain’s response to self vs. others. In this way, individuals perceive other people as more like themselves, making them more compassionate and empathetic. It should be noted, however, that there was not a comparison group of meditators who did not practice LKM. So, it cannot be concluded that the effects were due to LKM practice specifically. It could be that any form of meditation practice would have similar effects. But, it is clear that meditation alters the brain’s response to self vs. others.

 

So, improve seeing others as like the self with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.”  – Barbara Fredrickson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, José Raúl Naranjo, and Stefan Schmidt Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation. Front. Psychol., 21 November 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785

 

Research in social neuroscience provides increasing evidence that self and other are interconnected, both on a conceptual and on an affective representational level. Moreover, the ability to recognize the other as “like the self” is thought to be essential for social phenomena like empathy and compassion. Meditation practices such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) have been found to enhance these capacities. Therefore, we investigated whether LKM is associated to an increased integration of self–other-representations. As an indicator, we assessed the P300 event-related potential elicited by oddball stimuli of the self-face and a close other’s face in 12 long-term practitioners of LKM and 12 matched controls. In line with previous studies, the self elicited larger P300 amplitudes than close other. This effect was reduced in the meditation sample at parietal but not frontal midline sites. Within this group, smaller differences between self- and other-related P300 were associated with increasing meditation practice. Across groups, smaller P300 differences correlated with self-reported compassion. In meditators, we also investigated the effect of a short LKM compared to a control priming procedure in order to test whether the state induction would additionally modulate self- vs. other-related P300. However, no effect of the priming conditions was observed. Overall, our findings provide preliminary evidence that prolonged meditation practice may modulate self- vs. other-related processing, accompanied by an increase in compassion. Further evidence is needed, however, to show if this is a direct outcome of loving-kindness meditation.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016