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Monthly Archives: August 2008


Neuroplasticity and Meditation: Can the brain really change in response to meditation?

Dan Rather reports on the study of Meditation by Neuroscientists and the support of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. One can also see the full report at the HDnet Mindscience program at the following link, HERE.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Neuroplasticity: Dan Rather’s ‘Mind S…“, posted with vodpod

Sara Lazar does a talk on Neuroplasticity and the effects of Meditation on the brain:


Attention and Meditation

There has been a lot of research now supporting the role of meditation in Cognitive processes like Attention, Working memory, and Affect or Emotion Regulation.

1. Here is the link for a report from the NCAAM website reporting on the Attentional Blink phenonmenon and how it may be affected by long-term meditation practice. A 2008 PLoS Biology article from the Davidson lab, by Heleen Slagter can be found HERE.

2. Another article, “Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation”, by the Davidson lab that made the cover of TICS (Trends in Cognitive Science) is a 2008 TICS paper by Antoine Lutz. You can find it HERE.

April 2008 cover of Trends in Cognitive Science

April 2008 cover of Trends in Cognitive Science

Meditation May Increase Empathy

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

Meditation for Health Purposes Workshop — July 8–9, 2008

The purpose of the meeting was to articulate potential goals and directions for research on the mechanisms and efficacy of meditation practices for a variety of health concerns. Experts from a range of disciplines and with a wide range of involvement in the field of meditation research were asked to critically examine the current state of science on meditation for health, and to identify existing or potential intersections and contributions from their fields to further this area of science. This group developed a set of critical questions and approaches that could better inform future research in this area. This meeting coordinated by NIH NCCAM was essentially a focus group to discuss the next steps of meditation research. In attendance were Richie Davidson, Zindel Segal, John Dunne (actually, I think he didn’t make it), and other active meditation researchers and contemplative scholars.

the link for the description of this workshop: HERE

the points relevant for future studies that emerged from the meeting:

  • Foundational clinical research. Foundational research to provide the basic information on which subsequent investigations of efficacy and effectiveness should be built is essential. Such foundational studies must be designed to forecast clinical relevance.
    • Clarify biological mechanisms and pathways by which meditative strategies may impact on health
    • Identify biological measures of the impact of meditation
    • Develop valid, standardized, unbiased, and objective measures and instruments to describe meditative interventions and assess dose effects
    • Develop precise criteria (processes and practices) of intervention fidelity for specific meditation practices
    • Develop indices of expectancy and adherence specific to investigations of meditation practices
  • Treatment development. Studies to develop meditation-based treatments could allow meditation strategies to be optimized for specific health conditions and populations.
    • Develop standardized treatment protocols for specific mental and physical health disorders to improve reproducibility, quality assurance, and cross-study comparability
    • Identify well-characterized patient populations for inclusion in subsequent efficacy studies
    • Develop strategies for monitoring and identifying potential risks and adverse effects
  • Studies to enhance the evidence base for efficacy. A variety of study types and designs are needed to contribute to the evidence base, ranging from retrospective and prospective observational studies to well-designed clinical efficacy investigations. Such studies must be well-controlled and focused, and will further the evidence base for potential clinical applications.
    • Explore opportunities to add measures and gather important descriptive data including recurrent cross-sectional studies such as large national surveys (NHANES, NHIS) and on-going cohort investigations
    • Ensure that studies are sufficiently powered and that the study designs are appropriate to answer the research questions
    • Incorporate inclusion of specific biological and psychological outcomes, with plausible mechanisms linking the specific meditative practice with relevant outcomes
    • Ensure outcomes are clinically significant, measurable, and linked to health importance, including short-term and long-term measures of symptom management, coping with illness, quality of life, prevention of disease, and biological indices of health and disease from multiple systems
    • Develop and incorporate validated and standardized measures of expectancy, treatment adherence, and treatment fidelity for cross-study comparisons. Such cross-study comparisons would be particularly powerful should there be a well-characterized participant specimen repository available for investigations conducted using standardized measures and protocols.
    • Include appropriate control groups that are carefully developed with a consideration of the specific question(s) to be addressed. Factors to be controlled should be specifically identified (e.g., contextual factors not relevant to the specific study hypotheses such as time, attention, built environment, etc)
    • Integrate masking strategies to reduce sources of bias. As with the control group design, such strategies must be developed in light of specific potential sources of bias.

Science Explores Meditation’s Effect on the Brain

Here is an NPR story from Morning Edition, July 26, 2005 and one from Morning Edition, August 21, 2008, and an earlier one from Morning Edition, March 1, 2007

NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports on the effects of mindfulness on emotion, autonomic responses like blood pressure, and brain plasticity. The article cites JKZ, from the UMASS center for Mindfulness, Jim Austin, and director of the hypertension program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Randy Zusman . The March report has an example body scan guided meditation by Trish Magyari

Click Here for July, 26th link, Here for Aug. 21st link, and Here for the Mar. 1, 2007 link.

NIH Institutes and Centers Supporting Research on Meditation and Health

The NIH has been putting together resources for research scientists who are interested in studying the effects of meditation. Click HERE for the link or just go to:

It is part of the office of behavioral science research

Meditation for Health Purposes

Check out this article by NIH NCCAM about meditation. Click Here.

NCCAM thanks the following people for their technical expertise and review of this publication: Michael Baime, M.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Richard Davidson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison; Robert Schneider, M.D., Maharishi University of Management; and Catherine Stoney, Ph.D., Margaret Chesney, Ph.D., and Jack Killen, M.D., of NCCAM

Greetings and Welcome to Contemplative Mind in Life

This Blog will serve to provide a cyber space for news dedicated to contempaltive research in the cognitive neurosciences, clinical sciences, developmental and social and health psychology, and education. Please contact me at if you have news that is relevant to the study of mind in life.

You can also see what types of contemplative science research is being supported by the Mind and Life Institute at: and


Dave Vago