“If people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” With tendrils of hate, disrespect, and arrogant dismissiveness implicated in the senseless loss of too many lives to COVID-19 and police brutality, these touchstone words of Nelson Mandela become ever more pressing. Yet it remains unknown how best to teach love. As we seek to repair social institutions and rebuild caring communities, a deeper understanding is needed of how love transforms human processes, both within and between individuals. The current project represents an innovative fusion of new, breakthrough methods from neuroscience together with the time-tested contemplative practice of loving-kindness meditation. It investigates whether loving emotional states create a previously unknowable yet fundamental shift in brain functioning toward more inclusive and integrative neural processing, and whether this neural shift promotes prosocial qualities, such as openness, generosity and humility. No research to date has investigated whether loving-kindness leads to greater neural connectivity, nor how such connectivity may predict the presence or development of positive social qualities. This project aims to address these critical gaps and stands to advance our understanding of how loving-kindness meditation leads to interpersonal well-being and, ultimately, to the compassionate, healing and flourishing communities we seek.

Barbara Fredrickson, PhD

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Grantee, Reviewer