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The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures & Interventions

July 18-22, Telluride, Colorado

Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education present The Science of Compassion. This first large-scale conference of its kind held on the science of compassion brings together an outstanding group of world experts in the fields of altruism, compassion, and service to present their latest research.  The conference is open to anyone interested in compassion, altruism and service.  Researchers are invited to submit a poster for presentation during poster sessions.

Co-sponsoring the event are the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, The Greater Good Science Center, The Telluride Institute, and the Swedish Institution for Contemplation in Education and Research.

For more information, please see the Science of Compassion Website: http://ccare.stanford.edu/telluride For questions about the Science of Compassion event (July 19-22), please contact Emma Seppala 650.723.3248 emmas@stanford.edu Follow the Science of Compassion on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ScienceofCompassion

Preceding the Science of Compassion will be a daylong Compassion Festival organized by the Telluride Institute. For questions about the Compassion Festival (July 18-19), please contact Ehran Borg 970.708.7577 borg.ehrenw@gmail.com or see www.compassionfestival.org

Data from a new study suggests that individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses. The study’s findings are published online at www.sciencedirect.com and in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

“While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices designed to specifically foster compassion,” says Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, who designed and taught the meditation program used in the study. Negi is senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, the co-director of Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies and president and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.

This study focused on the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.

“Our findings suggest that meditation practices designed to foster compassion may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and are relevant to disease,” explains Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program, Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine, and a lead author on the study.

click HERE for the original link.

In order of personal preference:

1. Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) [Link] – The FFMQ, revised from the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills, is used to assess the construct of mindfulness. Previous research on assessment of mindfulness by self-report suggests that it may include five component skills: observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudging of inner experience, and nonreactivity to inner experience. These elements of mindfulness can be measured with the FFMQ.

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., et al. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27-45. [link]

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., et al. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329-42. [link]

Van Dam, N. T., Earleywine, M., & Danoff-Burg, S. (2009). Differential item function across meditators and non-meditators on the five facet mindfulness questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(5), 516-521. [link]

2. Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) – A 15-item, reverse-scored, 7-point scale (1 = almost always; 6 = almost never) self-report instrument with a single factor measuring attention to and awareness across several domains of experience in daily life (e.g., cognitive, emotional, physical, and general), such as “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present” and “I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.” Respondents rate how often they have experiences of acting on automatic pilot, being preoccupied and not paying attention in the present moment. The MAAS has a uni-dimensional factor structure that eliminated attitudinal components (i.e., acceptance) given the author’s findings of such components offering no explanatory advantage (Brown and Ryan, 2003). The MAAS appears to have appropriate application in research examining the role of mindfulness in the psychological well-being of college, working adults, and cancer patients, with or without comparisons to nonclinical controls.

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-48. [link]

Carlson, L. E., & Brown, K. W. (2005). Validation of the mindful attention awareness scale in a cancer population. J Psychosom Res, 58(1), 29. [link]

MacKillop, J., & Anderson, E. J. (2007). Further psychometric validation of the mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29(4), 289-293.[link]

Cordon, S. L., & Finney, S. J. (2008). Measurement invariance of the mindful attention awareness scale across adult attachment style. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 40(4), 18. [link]

Hansen, E., Lundh, L. G., Homman, A., et al. (2009). Measuring mindfulness: Pilot studies with the swedish versions of the mindful attention awareness scale and the Kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Cogn Behav Ther, 38(1), 2-15. [link]

Christopher, M. S., Charoensuk, S., Gilbert, B. D., Neary, T. J., & Pearce, K. L. (2009). Mindfulness in thailand and the united states: A case of apples versus oranges? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(6), 590-612. [link]

Van Dam, N. T., Earleywine, M., & Borders, A. (2010). Measuring mindfulness? An item response theory analysis of the mindful attention awareness scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 805. [link]

3.Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS) – A 13-item, two-factor structure (Curiosity, Decentering), uniquely state-oriented for use immediately following a meditation experience, has been validated in a number of clinical contexts. The items of Factor 1 (Curiosity) reflect an attitude of wanting to learn more about one’s experiences. The items of Factor 2 (Decentering) reflect a shift from identifying personally with thoughts and feelings to relating to one’s experience in a wider field of awareness

Lau, M. A., Bishop, S. R., Segal, Z. V., et al. (2006). The toronto mindfulness scale: Development and validation. J Clin Psychol, 62(12), 1445. [link]

Davis, K. M., Lau, M. A., & Cairns, D. R. (2009). Development and preliminary validation of a trait version of the toronto mindfulness scale. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23(3), 185-197. [link]

4. The Revised 12-item Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale (CAMS-R) - uni-dimensional, 12-item inventory that measures mindfulness during general daily occurrences on four components allegedly needed to reach a mindful state (i.e., attention, awareness, present-focus, and acceptance/nonjudgment). 

Feldman, G., Hayes, A., Kumar, S., et al. (2007). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: The development and initial validation of the cognitive and affective mindfulness scale-revised (CAMS-R). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29(3), 177-190.[link]

5. The Southampton Mindfulness Questionnaire (SMQ)uni-dimensional, 16-item inventory assessing the degree to which individuals respond to distressing thoughts and images using four aspects of mindfulness (observation, non-aversion, nonjudgment, letting go). Stressing its usefulness in clinical settings, the scale demonstrated to be able to distinguish between meditators and non-meditators and people with psychosis.

6. The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHLMS) The PHLMS is a 20-item, bi-dimensional measure assessing distinct components of present-centered awareness and acceptance that is based on both clinical and non-clinical samples without any meditation experience. Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., et al. (2008). The assessment of present-moment awareness and acceptance:

The Philadelphia mindfulness scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204. [link]

Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., et al. (2008). The assessment of present-moment awareness and acceptance: The Philadelphia mindfulness scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204. [link]

7. The 30-item Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) - The FMI was designed only for use with individuals who had prior exposure to meditation practices that cultivate mindfulness, to the extent that it was developed qualitatively out of the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. Its intention was to discriminate between novice and expert meditators (Walach et al., 2006). 

Buchheld, N., Grossman, P., & Walach, H. (2001). Measuring mindfulness in insight meditation (vipassana) and meditation-based psychotherapy: The development of the freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Journal for Meditation and Meditation Research, 1(1), 11-34. [link]

Walach, H., Buchheld, N., Buttenmüller, V., et al. (2006). Measuring mindfulness—the freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Personality and Individual Differences, 40(8), 1543-1555. [link]

Kohls, N., Sauer, S., & Walach, H. (2009). Facets of mindfulness–results of an online study investigating the freiburg mindfulness inventory. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(2), 224-230. [link]

8. Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS) - developed as a means of determining effectiveness of Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a 39-item multi-dimensional scale of interrelated skills related to what one does while practicing mindfulness, and how one does it. The “what” skills include observing (noticing or attending to) current experience, describing (noting or labeling observed experiences) with words, and participating (focusing full attention on current activity); the “how” skills include being nonjudgmental (accepting, refraining from evaluation), being one-mindful (using undivided attention), and being effective (using skillful means) (Baer et al., 2009). 

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., & Allen, K. B. (2004). Assessment of mindfulness by self-report: The kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Assessment, 11(3), 191-206. [link]

Dekeyser, M., Raes, F., Leijssen, M., Leysen, S., & Dewulf, D. (2008). Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1235-1245. [link]

Hansen, E., Lundh, L. G., Homman, A., et al. (2009). Measuring mindfulness: Pilot studies with the swedish versions of the mindful attention awareness scale and the kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Cogn Behav Ther, 38(1), 2-15. [link]

Nicastro, R., Jermann, F., Bondolfi, G., et al. (2010). Assessment of mindfulness with the french version of the kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills in community and borderline personality disorder samples. Assessment, 1-9. [link]

9. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Adherence and Competence Scale (MBRP-AC)

Chawla, N., Collins, S., Bowen, S., et al. (2010). The mindfulness-based relapse prevention adherence and competence scale: Development, interrater reliability, and validity. Psychotherapy Research, 4, 1-10. [link]

10. Self-Other Four Immeasurables (SOFI)

Kraus, S., & Sears, S. (2009). Measuring the immeasurables: Development and initial validation of the self-other four immeasurables (SOFI) scale based on buddhist teachings on loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Social Indicators Research, 92(1), 169-181. [link]

11. Self-Compassion Scale [Link]

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223-250. [link]

Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101. [link]

12. Solloway Mindfulness Survey – The SMS is offered free to teachers and their students. Teachers can download their students’ SMS measures in order to monitor growth in mindfulness. [Link]

13. Acceptance & Action Questionnaire II – AAQ-II – The AAQ-II was developed in order to establish an internally consistent measure of ACT’s model of mental health and behavioral effectiveness. Acceptance was the term used to positively describe this model underlying Acceptance & Commitment Therapy; thus, it is defined as the willingness to experience (i.e., not alter the form, frequency, or sensitivity of) unwanted private events, in the pursuit of one’s values and goals. [Link]

Hayes, S.C., et al., Acceptance and commitment therapy: model, processes and outcomes. Behav Res Ther, 2006. 44(1): p. 1-25. [Link]

See the following link for comprehensive review of current research in the area of mindfulness [Link]

Most of these are still under development. Not all of these scales do a very good job at clearly measuring what is historically referred to by Sati or Smrti.

What is Mindfulness you may ask?

Mindfulness originates from a deeply rooted system of contemplative practice. It is imperative that one consider these cultural and historical concepts in trying to define or operationalize Mindfulness. The term is traditionally described as the essential faculty to cultivate with all Buddhist meditation practices. It’s origin is from the words -

o Sati/Smrti (Pali/Sanskrit) – meaning “that which is remembered”; reflective awareness or skillful attention

Kabat-Zinn (2005) defines mindfulness broadly in his book, “Coming to Our Senses” as:

moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgementally, and openheartedly as possible. When it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as deliberate mindfulness. When it spontaneously arises, as it tends to do more and more the more it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as effortless mindfulness.

Alan Wallace (2006) defines mindfulness as “Non-conceptual [meta-]awareness that does not label or categorize experiences and involves attending continuously to a familiar object, without forgetfulness or distraction”

Steven C. Hayes, 1999 defines a two-component model of mindfulness:

(a) the intentional self-regulation of attention to facilitate greater awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions; and (b) a specific quality of attention characterized by endeavoring to connect with each object in one’s awareness (e.g., each bodily sensation, thought, or emotion) with curiosity, acceptance, and openness to experience. Such a state involves an active process of relating openly with one’s current experience by allowing current thoughts, feelings, and sensations

Scott Bishop (2004) defines mindfulness as:

An intentional, reflective style of introspection or self-observation that, in addition, differs from concentrative meditation. Concentrative practices involve maintaining one’s attention on a single focus of awareness such as a single word or phrase, a candle flame, or even one’s own breathing (e.g., transcendental meditation, clinically standardized meditation). Although mindfulness, or insight meditation, also includes some concentrative practices, the focus of attention is unrestricted such that the meditator develops an awareness of one’s present experience, including thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations as they consciously occur on a moment-by-moment basis. Scott’s citation can be found HERE.

All would agree that mindfulness is a skill that can be developed through the practice of specific types of meditation; however, we need to be careful not to confuse the concept of mindfulness with the Western concept of mindfulness.

John Dunne adds that it is essential that a definition of mindfulness include the following:
• Non-discursive
• Heightened awareness of subjective features of experience.
• Reduced susceptibility to mental habits
• Samprajanya
–“Discriminating Alertness”
–“Clear Comprehension”
–“Awareness”
What is NOT mindfulness from this rich cultural context:
• The most commonly confused definition of mindfulness is with what most dictionaries describe as “Being aware, heedful or careful of something (to be mindful of the danger).”
• “The trait of staying aware of (paying close attention) to your responsibilities.”
• Langer (1978): The counterpart to mindlessness; continual categorization and labeling of experience, seeing multiple views, developing sensitivity to context
• Linehan (DBT-1993): “Learning to observe and describe events and personal responses in words”

In order to put these sensitive semantic issues in proper context, I also would like to provide you with an excerpt from a paper (Is Meditation a Means of Knowing our Mental World?) written by Thupten Jinpa, Institute of Tibetan Classics, McGill University:

The word meditation in a contemporary cultural context often has the connotation of doing something special to calm the mind or to try and achieve some form of altered state of consciousness. One obvious fact that we tend to forget is that “meditation” is actually an English term and that, when applying it to convey a core element of Eastern spiritual practice, such as that of Buddhism, there might involve unrecognized conflation of meanings. In the classical Buddhist context, however, the term meditation is used to translate the Sanskrit term bhävana and its Tibetan equivalent gom (spelt sgoms). Etymologically, the Sanskrit term connotes the notion of “cultivation,” while its Tibetan equivalent gom carries the idea of developing “familiarity,” together implying the idea of some kind of repetitive process of cultivating a familiarity, whether it is with respect to a habit, a way of seeing, or a way of being. In its actual usage, however, the term gom is applied not only to the process of “cultivation” or “development of familiarity,” it is also applied to the resultant states achieved through such processes. So, in this sense, meditation can refer both to the practice of disciplined cultivation as well as the cultivated result of such a discipline. One can also extend the definition: we are all cultivating our minds in one way or another all the time. The quality of our lives reflects the ways we have cultivated our minds until now.

One MUST understand the cultural sensitivities involved in the introduction of these practices and therefore encourage you all to approach “mindfulness” and “contemplative practice” as a respectful anthropologist would treat an encounter with an indigenous culture (as Jon K-Z would say), while being careful to not unwittingly ignore or dismiss the deepest and most subtle features of such practices.

Good Luck! I look forward to discussion if needed.

The Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior is headed by Richard Davidson, PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. You can follow the most recent research taking place in this lab at the website linked HERE.

Peace Talks Radio covers the Waisman Laboratory on a story called, “the Neuroscience of Compassion”. It can be found HERE.

Februrary, 2004 – Monterrey, CA – Matthieu talks about habits of Happiness

Matthieu talks with ccare at Stanford University on Compassion:

Here are a few links for research supporting the claim that Meditation increases empathy.

1. NCCAM report citing Antoine Lutz’s 2008 PLosOne article. NCCAM site; Lutz article HERE

2. Tania Singer: a. The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research; NaBR, 2006 article HERE; b. Empathy for Pain Involves the Affective but not Sensory Components of Pain – Science, 2004 article HERE

Tania states: “We propose two major roles for empathy; its epistemological role is to provide information about the future actions of other people, and important environmental properties. Its social role is to serve as the origin of the motivation for cooperative and prosocial behavior, as well as help for effective social communication.”

3. Hein and Singer: I feel how you feel but not always: the empathic brain and its
modulation;article HERE

CLARIFICATION NOTE: Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. It is important to note that empathy does not necessarily imply compassion. Empathy can be ‘used’ for compassionate or cruel behavior.

Emotional Contagion: The tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). see WIKI

Sympathy: the recognition of another’s suffering; making known one’s understanding of another’s unhappiness or suffering

Compassion: Profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism

From Wiki: “Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha’s teachings. He was reputedly asked by his secretary, Ananda, “Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice? To which the Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindess and compassion is all of our practice.” See WIKI

Schadenfreude: Enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else

Tania and her imaging lab has been looking at these components of emotion in experienced, long-term meditators like Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu preparing to demonstrate compassion in the scanner

Matthieu preparing to demonstrate compassion in the scanner

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