Many people wonder how the Dalai Lama can stay so composed despite the human rights violations against his native Tibet. New neuroscience research may help explain the exiled Tibetan leader’s compassion for all people. Meditation may increase a person’s ability to feel empathy and kindness for others.
On this edition of Peace Talks Radio, we explore brain research suggesting that compassion can be learned and increased with practice, similar to any skill or talent. Some researchers believe that compassion meditation may benefit depressed people or young people who struggle with aggression and violence. Suzanne Kryder hosts conversations with several guests. One is Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a research professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His labs use a variety of technologies including functional magnetic resonance imaging or MRI to study patterns in brain function. One focus of his work is on interactions between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in normal subjects, patients with anxiety disorders, and highly trained Buddhist monks.
Also featured is Dr. Dan Siegel, currently an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine where he is on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and is Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. Dr. Siegel is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization that focuses on how the development of insight, compassion and empathy in individuals, families and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes. His latest book is The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being (2007).
Suzanne also speaks with Dr. Pilar Sanjuan, a research scientist at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque. She is currently working on a study with veterans who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to see if mindfulness training helps reduce the suffering associated with this diagnosis. Dr. Sanjuan and Dr. John Phillips give Suzanne a tour of some of the equipment used to study these aspects of neuroscience.