We Can Teach Our Brains to Feel More Compassion

Scientific evidence shows that we can train the brain to feel more compassion—for others and for ourselves. 

Another science-based reason to try loving-kindness meditation! In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (directed by Dr. Richard J. Davidson, who was featured in Mindful‘s August 2014 issue), participants were taught to generate compassion for different categories of people, including both those they love and “difficult” people in their lives.

After only two weeks of online training, participants who practiced compassion meditation every day behaved more altruistically towards strangers compared to another group taught to simply regulate or control their negative emotions.

What’s more, the study is the first to link these behavioral changes with measurable changes in brain activity, shedding light on why compassionate thoughts may actually lead to compassionate deeds.

“Doing these kinds of exercises is a little like weight training—the compassion ‘muscle’ is strengthened by practicing with people of increasing difficulty, like increasing weights over time,” writes lead study author Helen Weng.

After the experiment, Weng’s team made the compassion trainings available for free to the general public. As of April 2014, over 3,700 people have downloaded the compassion meditation training in over 60 countries.

Photo: Flickr.com/Amanda