Low social connectedness is a growing cause of suffering and disability. Nearly half of U.S. adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely, a state defined as a perceived lack of social connectedness and close, loving relationships. We propose to study empathy as a mechanism promoting perceived social connectedness and love. We will assess whether a Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) intervention increases social connectedness and love through its effects on empathy, following prior data linking LKM to increased self-reported empathy and linking empathy to greater perceived social connectedness. Diverse participants will be stratified and randomized to an LKM training intervention or control condition. LKM training will feature guided meditation sessions recorded by Sharon Salzberg, an internationally renowned LKM expert and consultant for our ongoing funded research. Pre-post changes in perceived social connectedness, love, and loneliness will be measured. MRI scanning will assess group differences in self-other neural mapping (a neural manifestation of empathy) and its relationship to observed effects. This innovative research tests novel hypotheses about empathy’s role in promoting social connectedness. Results will lay the foundation for developing empirically-supported contemplative tools to improve social connectedness and love, and reducing the loneliness that low social connectedness fosters.
Mind & Life Connections