Thursday, November 21, 2013

Science of Compassion 2013 — Neuroscience and Cognitive Perspectives on Compassion

This video from The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) is from the CCARE Science of Compassion Summer Research Institute, co-sponsored by the Telluride Institute (July 20-25, 2013).

The purpose of the conference is outlined below, along with the bios of the speakers in the video below.

Science of Compassion 2013 — Neuroscience and Cognitive Perspectives

The purpose of the CCARE Science of Compassion Summer Research Institute, co-sponsored by the Telluride Institute, a five-day conference held in Summer 2013, was to advance research on compassion and altruism through collaboration, dialog, inquiry, education, and research.
This talk focused on the neuroscience and cognitive perspectives of compassion. Speakers include Drs. Stephanie Brown, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Gaelle Desbordes, and Clifford Saron.

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The purpose of the CCARE Summer Research Institute, co-sponsored by the Telluride Institute, a five-day conference to be held in Summer 2013, is to advance research on compassion and altruism through collaboration, dialog, inquiry, education, and research.

Drawing from several disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, genetics, economics, and contemplative traditions, the CCARE Summer Research Institute aims to examine compassion, altruism and prosocial behavior from a wide perspective of scientific angles. In particular, the institute will explore and discuss the neural correlates, biological bases and antecedents of compassion; the effects of compassion on behavior, physiology, overall health, and the brain; and methods, techniques, and programs for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society-wide. Compassion education programs will also be integrated into the curriculum.

The long-term goal of the Summer Research Institute is to support young scientists who wish to focus their research on compassion, altruism, and prosocial behavior. Their participation in the Institute will allow them to deepen their knowledge of compassion research, receive training in compassion education and research programs, build collaborations and develop a network of like-minded scientists that can offer intellectual support and community. The Summer Research Institute will award competitive pilot research grants to outstanding participants whose research protocols promise to significantly further the field of compassion research.

Specific Goals

  • Provide an intensive training in the field of compassion research including operational definitions, biological underpinnings, and effects of compassion on behavior, physiology, overall health, and the brain
  • Foster dialog, research collaborations, and knowledge exchange between expert faculty and young researchers (graduate students and postdocs) in the field of compassion research
  • Delineate research questions and gaps in the field of compassion research in order to highlight new directions for research
  • Develop a community of young scientists (graduate students and post-docs) dedicated to researching compassion

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Clifford Saron, Ph.D., University of California – Davis

Clifford Saron, Ph.D., is an Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California at Davis. He received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1999 studying the electrophysiology of interhemispheric visuomotor integration under the direction of Herbert Vaughan, Jr. Dr. Saron has had a long-standing interest in brain and behavioral effects of meditation practice and has been faculty at the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute and is currently a member of the Program and Research Council of the Mind and Life Institute. In the early 1990′s he was centrally involved in a field research project investigating Tibetan Buddhist mind training in collaboration with Jose Cabezón, Richard Davidson, Francisco Varela, Alan Wallace and others under the auspices of the Private Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama and the Mind and Life Institute. Currently, in collaboration with Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace and a consortium of over 30 scientists and researchers at UC Davis and elsewhere, he is Principal Investigator of The Shamatha Project, a unique longitudinal study of intensive meditation training based on the practice of meditative quiescence (shamatha) and cultivation of the four immeasureables (loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity). The project, focused on changes in attention-related skills and emotion regulation, is the most comprehensive multimethod study to date regarding the potential effects of long-term intensive meditation practice on basic mental and physical processes related to cognition, emotion, health physiology, and motivation. His other primary research interest focuses on investigating brain and behavioral correlates of sensory processing and multisensory integration in children on the autistic spectrum.


Stephanie Brown, Ph.D, Stony Brook University

Stephanie Brown is an Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at SUNY Stony Brook and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She received a B.S. degree in Psychology from the University of Washington, and a Ph. D. in Social Psychology from Arizona State University. She completed a 2-year N.I.M.H. postdoctoral training program in “Psychosocial Factors in Mental Health and Illness” at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Following her postdoctoral training, Dr. Brown received a research scientist career development award (K-01) to study whether dialysis patients who provide social support to others suffer fewer symptoms of depression. This project led to a series of empirical papers conducted with fellow Center faculty member Dylan Smith, suggesting that the health benefits of social contact are due to the provision, as opposed to the receipt, of social support. Dr. Brown spent three years as an Assistant Professor on the faculty in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan before joining the faculty at SUNY Stony Brook in December 2009. Dr. Brown’s research currently focuses on the neuro-affective mechanisms underlying altruistic and prosocial behavior and she has a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to examine the physiological consequences of helping others. Together with center member, Dylan Smith, Dr. Brown’s research examines (a) the role that other-focused motivational states play in stress regulation (b) the implications of helping-induced stress-regulation for physical health and longevity and (c) the contribution of other-focused motivational states and behaviors to the darker side of human experience including depression, suicidality, and PTSD. These lines of research are designed to shed light into the mechanisms underlying a caregiving motivational system, including its evolutionary origins and its implications for compassionate care, medicine, economic behavior, ethnic and international conflict, and other political attitudes and behaviors.


Gaëlle Desbordes, Ph.D., Research Fellow At The Athinoula A. Martinos Center And Harvard Medical School And A Visiting Scholar At Boston University

Gaëlle Desbordes, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging within the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a visiting scholar at Boston University. Trained as a neuroscientist (PhD, Boston University) and with a background in engineering and computer science, her current research focuses on the neuroscientific investigation of meditative practices—including compassion meditation—using brain imaging (functional MRI) and physiological measurements of the autonomic nervous system. She is the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind and Life Institute for her ongoing study of the neural and physiological correlates of advanced meditation practices. She is herself an experienced meditation practitioner with a particular interest in traditional contemplative methods for cultivating loving-kindness and compassion (e.g., Tibetan “mind training” or lo-jong methods). For the past four years she has worked in collaboration with Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi (Emory University) and Charles Raison (University of Arizona) on the Compassion and Attention Longitudinal Meditation (CALM) study, a longitudinal study that examines how Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) affects emotional processing in the brain and the regulation of physiological responses to psychosocial stress. She is also on the neuroscience faculty at the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative—an ongoing effort overseen by HH the Dalai Lama aimed at implementing a comprehensive and sustainable science education program for Tibetan monks and nuns.


Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., The Greater Good Science Center, University of California – Berkeley

Emiliana Simon-Thomas earned her doctorate in Cognition Brain and Behavior at UC Berkeley. Using behavioral, EEG and fMRI methods, her dissertation examined how negative states like fear and aversion influence thinking and decision-making.
During her postdoc, Emiliana moved into the positive terrain to study care/nurturance, love of humanity, compassion and awe under the mentorship of Dacher Keltner. From signaling, perceiving and self-reporting of emotions to peripheral autonomic and neural indices of emotion to understanding the psychosocial benefits of emotional authenticity and connection, Emiliana continues to examine the potential for enhancing everything pro-social.

Previously the Associate Director/Senior Scientist at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, Emiliana joins the Greater Good Science Center with great enthusiasm for her hometown, Berkeley and heartfelt ambition to support and grow Greater Good Science to new heights, widths and depths!

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