* January 2021 update:
New title: Characterizing how lovingkindness meditation is practiced in a diverse meditation community committed to social justice
New Principal Investigator: Ariana Thompson-Lastad
Lovingkindness meditation consists of mental exercises to cultivate caring feelings towards oneself and others. Research suggests that lovingkindness meditation improves social connection and helping behavior, and may aid social justice movements by decreasing implicit racial bias. However, the pathways through which these benefits occur remain unclear because scientists lack tools to measure mental states during lovingkindness practice. This proposal will use a community-engaged approach to 1) characterize how lovingkindness meditation is practiced in a diverse meditation community committed to social justice, and 2) develop a novel brain-based measure to assess mental states during lovingkindness meditation. We will apply pattern recognition technology to functional MRI data to recognize and estimate mental states during meditation practice (such as the emotional quality of lovingkindness towards each person), which can then be quantified into novel LKM metrics, such as the ratio of positive to negative responses to the self and difficult person. This project aims to improve the contemplative field’s methods in assessing lovingkindness meditation, particularly in a multicultural context.