Changing the Brain Part I

Changing the Brain Part I


The ability of the brain to change through experience, a capacity known as neuroplasticity, allows for exciting possibilities of human development and transformation. This session explored the implications of neuroplasticity in the areas of mental training, attention, emotion regulation and compassion. Richard Davidson provided a broad overview of the impact of mental training in altering brain circuitry and behavior relevant to attention and emotion regulation. The effects of mindfulness and loving-kindness/compassion practices on cortical and limbic functions will be described, as well as new findings on alterations of brain circuitry during sleep and epigenetics. Tania Singer introduced a model developed for a one-year compassion intervention program that consists of training in attention, interoceptive awareness, perspective taking and meta-cognition, loving-kindness, prosocial motivation and acceptance of difficult emotions. She then provided empirical evidence for affective brain plasticity after a one-week training of empathy as compared to compassion and loving-kindness. Overall, research in contemplative neuroscience suggests that mental training produces highly specific and enduring effects on brain function and behavior. What are the limits of neuroplasticity, and what does this mean for human potential? 

  • Dialogue 26
    27 sessions
  • January 19, 2013
    Drepung Monastery, Mundgod, India
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Richard Davidson

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is the founder and chairman of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, and the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, both at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was educated at New York University and Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s of arts and PhD degrees, respectively, in psychology. Over the course of his research career, he has focused on the relationship between brain and emotion. He is currently the William James professor and Vilas research professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. He is co-author or editor of 13 books, including Visions of Compassion: Western Scientists and Tibetan Buddhists Examine Human Nature, The Handbook of Affective Science, and The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Davidson has published more than 300 chapters and journal articles, and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards for his work, including the Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served on the board of directors for the Mind & Life Institute since 1992. In 2006, Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and he received the first Mani Bhaumik Award from UCLA for advances in the understanding of the role of the brain and the conscious mind in healing.