Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity

Jennifer S. Mascaro, James K. Rilling, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Charles L. Raison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

105 Scopus citations

Abstract

The ability to accurately infer others' mental states from facial expressions is important for optimal social functioning and is fundamentally impaired in social cognitive disorders such as autism. While pharmacologic interventions have shown promise for enhancing empathic accuracy, little is known about the effects of behavioral interventions on empathic accuracy and related brain activity. This study employed a randomized, controlled and longitudinal design to investigate the effect of a secularized analytical compassion meditation program, cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT), on empathic accuracy. Twenty-one healthy participants received functional MRI scans while completing an empathic accuracy task, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), both prior to and after completion of either CBCT or a health discussion control group. Upon completion of the study interventions, participants randomized to CBCT and were significantly more likely than control subjects to have increased scores on the RMET and increased neural activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Moreover, changes in dmPFC and IFG activity from baseline to the post-intervention assessment were associated with changes in empathic accuracy. These findings suggest that CBCT may hold promise as a behavioral intervention for enhancing empathic accuracy and the neurobiology supporting it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernss095
Pages (from-to)48-55
Number of pages8
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

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Keywords

  • Compassion
  • Emotion recognition
  • Empathic accuracy
  • Meditation
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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