According to a new research study that was published in the prestigious Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. A meditation program that included learning mindfulness, Buddhist compassion meditation practices as well as cognitive relationship training, increased long term empathy.
The researchers at Emory University recruited 21 participants. Each of the individuals underwent fMRI brain scans and completed a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes. The participant were shown black and white images of eyes facial regions, participants were asked to describe the emotions they believed the eyes exemplify such as fear, sadness, surprise and happiness.
After completing this initial test half of the participants underwent a 13-week meditation training program, the other participants were in a control group, they attended the same number of meetings, however, these were focused on discussions such as how exercise contributes to health.
After the 13 weeks all of the participants completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test again while in the fMRI scanner. It was reported that while there was no change in the score of the individuals in the control group with some individuals actually getting worse scores than their initial test. Individuals who participated in the meditation course showed a significant improvement in their ability to read emotions from looking at people’s eyes. Additionally, the brain scans showed that the meditation training had significantly increased the brain activity in the area of the brain known to be involved in the experience of empathy.
Empathy is critical for stable relationships and it has also previously been proven to help improve health and illness recovery, this study therefore is hugely beneficial as it demonstrates a practical means of generating empathy and compassion.