This is Your Brain on Kindness

Ann Douglas's picture

by Ann Douglas

This is your brain on kindnessResearchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who have tracked the changes that the brain undergoes when we treat others with greater compassion, have concluded that the simple act of practicing "compassion meditation" -- the practice of wishing others happiness and an end to suffering -- has the potential to add much happiness to our lives.

What's more, they believe that teaching "compassion meditation" techniques to children and preteens could help to promote empathy, minimize bullying, promote healthy self-esteem and reduce the incidence of depression in young people.

The researchers involved in the study tracked brain activity and discovered that practicing compassion meditation affects the temporal parietal juncture (the part of the brain that perceives the emotional states in others) as well as the insula -- the part of the brain that detects your own emotions and maps out your body's responses (for example, heart rate and blood pressure changes).

Those who practiced "compassion meditation" on an ongoing basis reported higher levels of happiness that those who were not taught the technique.

The researchers published their study in the Public Library of Science One. Their study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that positive emotions can be learned through practice and repetition.

You can read more about the study published in 2008 at the Public Library of Science One -- search for "compassion meditation."

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.