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The Mind of the Meditator
Scientific American Just put out a decent summary of the current neuroscience research on meditation written by friends, Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, and Richie Davidson. I enjoyed reading the article and thought I’d share it here with some commentary. The article uses the same distinctions in meditation practice we outlined in our S-ART paper – That is Focused Attention, Open Monitoring (or Mindfulness), and Loving Kindness or Compassion (or ethical enhancement practices).
Essentially, they describe the act of meditating during Focused Attention similarly to the model below – A practitioner starts with the intention, orients attention and engages on object (Breath) – the mind becomes distracted and enters the mind-wandering default mode network – it realizes there is distraction (through decentering) and activates a salience network. Reorientation of awarenesss than involves dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior inferior parietal lobe. I would further argue that the larger frontoparietal control network (including nodes of the salience network and lateral frontopolar cortex and even the lateral cerebellum) all contribute to the decentering, monitoring, and reorientation process. the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex concurrently helps with response inhibition.
Interestingly, the article also points out some of the morphological changes noted in a recent meta-analyses done by Kiran Fox HERE. The study found the frontopolar cortex and anterior insula were 2 brain regions with neuroplastic changes most often found in such studies of meditators.
Contemplative Practices and Mental Training: Prospects for American Education
The Mind and Life Education Research Group met regularly for 4 years (2007-2011) to create a research agenda for contemplative education. A scholarly white paper manifested as a result drawing on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.
The paper can be found Here [Link]
my personal copy [MLERN_2012]
Opening of Center for Creating Healthy Minds in Madison: A sign of the times
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been instrumental in forging a close relationship between Buddhist teachers, Rinpoches, monks, and Scientists. Scientists across multiple disciplines have started to take note of the possibilities for investigating positive human qualities and the effects of types of practices that can influence our minds and our physical nature in an adaptive fashion. A new center has opened in Wisconsin called:
Center for Creating Healthy Minds.
It is a center for studying not one way of developing a healthy mind, but the many factors and that can potentially influence the mind towards developing a particularly health-promoting disposition. Richie Davidson and his lab have been pioneers in this emerging field of contemplative neuroscience. There has been an explosion of research since 2004 in this area and the opening of such a lab (and there are now many others as well), is indicative of the times….a revolution of sorts for humanity. It is no longer sufficient to study biopsychosocial models of disease and dysfunction, but to investigate the explicit factors and specific practices that reduce the risks of developing mental disease and related physical ailments. Essentially, how do we weather the storms of life, while also focusing beyond ourselves!
Excessive focus on the self clearly contributes to psychopathology (e.g., see Northoff, 2007). In the laboratory, we are now beginning to see physical benefits of less self-focus, compassion and empathy for others. The Dalai Lama noted in the talk today with Richie Davidson and Dan Goleman that deeply rooted Self-confidence apparently reduces fear, mistrust, and decreases hostile behavior. On the other hand, primary self-focus alone is likely to produce insecurities that further lead into selfish behavior leading to mistrust, increased fear, and more hostile behavior. Therefore, taking care of others well-being will directly benefit your SELF.
One example of research in this area is in one study where people were give $50 and asked to spend it on either one self or on other people. They were then asked the subjective level of happiness. Those individuals who were asked to spend it on themselves were found to be less happy than those individuals who spent the money on others.
So…I gather you will go out today and tip your Barista a little more or give that extra dollar to the homeless guy…because truly this selfless action is what will be preventing you from developing a form of depression or psychopathology later.
Scientists’ Meditation Retreat at Spirit Rock
Spirit Rock is offering a Scientists’ Meditation Retreat in early 2009 from Sunday, January 11 – Sunday, January 18. This retreat is designed to introduce neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, mental health practitioners and others who study the mind to ways in which mindfulness practice can inform their research. The faculty includes vipassana teachers Sylvia Boorstein, Wes Nisker, Trudy Goodman and Diana Winston (who is Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center), plus Richard Davidson, PhD, from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The goal of this retreat is to introduce mind scientists and researchers to in-depth training in meditation. It is also open to graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and faculty who work in the mind sciences. The retreat will be conducted in most respects like a traditional silent vipassana or Insight meditation retreat, which incorporates an ancient method of introspection often called mindfulness that readily conforms to the spirit of empirical science. While this method comes out of the most ancient school of Buddhism (the Theravada), it is presented as a non-sectarian practice as a means of training the mind to be more keenly aware of sensory phenomena, the flow of thought, the ever-changing display of emotions and moods. The practice need not be adopted in the context of Buddhism as a religion or as a philosophical tradition.
The last two days of this retreat will include a talk by Dr. Davidson and focused discussions among participants on topics relevant to the intersection of the mind, neurosciences and contemplative practice. Apart from instructions, question and answer sessions, and evening didactic presentations, the first five days of the retreat will be conducted in silence. For anyone who has never spent days in silence before, this aspect of the retreat alone is quite likely to be a revolutionary experience.
Prerequisite: Intended for neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists and other mind scientists, including graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and faculty who work in the mind sciences, as well as all mental health practitioners.
Cost $905 – $555, sliding scale, plus a donation to the teachers and retreat staff. Click here to register:
Sylvia Boorstein has been teaching since 1985 and teaches both vipassana and metta meditation. She is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and a psychotherapist, wife, mother, and grandmother who is particularly interested in seeing daily life as practice. Her books include It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness; Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat; That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist; Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness; and Happiness Is an Inside Job.
Richard J. Davidson, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he serves as both Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in psychology and has been at Wisconsin since 1984. Davidson is internationally renowned for his research on the neural substrates of emotion and emotional disorders. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research including a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award. He was the 1997 Distinguished Scientific Lecturer for the American Psychological Association. He served as a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network in Mind-Body Interaction, is currently a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Mind-Brain-Body and Health Initiative and a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors, NIMH. In 2000, he received the most prestigious award given by the American Psychological Association for lifetime achievement-the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. He has published more than 150 articles, many chapters and reviews and edited 12 books.
Trudy Goodman has practiced Zen and Vipassana since 1974 and taught retreats and workshops nationwide for many years. She is a founder and guiding teacher of Insight LA, Growing Spirit (a family program) and the Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, and the first Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, in Cambridge MA, where she lived and taught at the Cambridge Buddhist Association from 1991-99.
Wes “Scoop” Nisker is a Buddhist meditation teacher, author, radio commentator and performer. His bestselling books include Essential Crazy Wisdom; The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom; and Buddha’s Nature. His latest book is Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! He is also the founder and co-editor of the Buddhist journal “Inquiring Mind.” For the past 15 years, Wes has been leading his own retreats and workshops in Buddhist insight meditation and philosophy at venues internationally.
Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at HYPERLINK “https://dnbweb1.blackbaud.com/OPXREPHIL/Link.asp?link=284991“UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research CenterHYPERLINK “http://www.marc.ucla.edu/” \n. She is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council and founder of the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) Program and the former associate director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She has practiced vipassana since 1989, including a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma and is the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens. She has been teaching meditation to youth and adults nationally for many years.
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.