While the mien of meditation masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama is often remarked upon as a powerful component of the fruit of their practice, little is known scientifically about links between the practice of meditation and changes in facial expression and whether these changes would be linked to emotional and/or physiological variables. The bidirectional relationship between facial expressions, and mood and physiological functioning, is relevant to mental and emotional health. Compassion meditation affects this relationship by modifying the facial expressions of practitioners, or by changing an individual’s understanding of their relationship to the world, thereby enabling them to more accurately assess neutral, benign or positive reactions from others. The current proposal seeks to test pathways through which synergy between experienced emotion and physiological stress responses might occur, by examining the relationships between facial responses to a standardized laboratory psychosocial stressor and emotional and autonomic, neuroendocrine and innate immune responses to the same stressor. These relationships have not yet been explored; this work will provide the basis for exploring the specific effects of compassion meditation on facial expression.

Teresa Sivilli

Emory University