2015 Francisco J. Varela Grants for Contemplative Research

Neuroscientist, philosopher, and Mind & Life co-founder Francisco Varela (1946-2001) believed that contemplative training offered modern science novel methods for investigating the depth of human experience. In his vision, contemplative training such as meditation not only provided a new domain for scientific study, but also offered resources for advancing scientific models of consciousness, emotion, and cognitive processing.

Named in his honor, The Francisco J. Varela Grants for Contemplative Research are grants of up to $15,000 awarded annually to research scientists who have attended the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute. These grants fund scientific and scholarly examinations of contemplative techniques, with the ultimate goal that findings will provide greater insight into the mechanisms of contemplative practice and its application for reducing human suffering.

It is our pleasure to announce the 2015 Varela Grant Recipients:

US Grants

Adrienne Adler
Wake Forest School of Medicine
The effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and heart rate variability

Noopur Amin
University of California, Berkeley
Neural and endocrine mechanisms mediating prosociality

Spencer Fix
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Tracking the neural network interaction changes associated with the initiation and maintenance of regular meditation practice with longitudinal EEG data

Simon Goldberg
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Improving the measurement of mindfulness: Validation of observer-rated and self-report measures of mindfulness training

Yuval Hadash
University of Haifa
The Meta-Awareness Task (MAT): A novel behavioral measurement methodology of mindfulness

Adam Hanley
Florida State University
Dissecting de-automatization: The effect of mindfulness training on unconscious habit formation

Sucharit Katyal
University of Minnesota
The neural bases of heightened awareness to the present moment

Brianna Morseth
University of California, Santa Barbara
From egocentric to ecocentric: Pro-social and pro-environmental actualizations of mindfulness at an intensive monastic retreat

Martin Paczynski
George Mason University
Comparing the efficacy of mindfulness-based training vs. working-memory training on cognitive health and resilience to acute stress in older adults

Jessica Peters
Rhode Island Hospital; Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Creating implicit and phenomenological assessments of nonjudgmental orientation to experience

Jennifer Pokorny
University of California, Davis
Socio-emotional effects of Insight meditation retreat participation on practitioners and their close others

William Rubel
University of British Columbia
Unseaming the secular: Poetry, process, and belief in the world

Helen Weng
University of California, San Francisco
A community-engaged approach to contemplative neuroscience in a diverse contemplative community

European Grants

(available to eligible applicants who have attended the European Summer Research Institute)

Katarzyna Bylow-Antkowiak
University of St Andrews, Scotland
Second person issues in contemplative life – polite talk, teasing and debating dyads in a Tibetan Buddhist non-monastic educational setting

Anira Escrichs
University of Barcelona, Spain
Interplay between structural connectivity and resting-state dynamics in meditators

Enrico Fucci
Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre, France
Investigating modulation of compassion by self-related factors in expert and novice meditators: behavioural and neuroendocrine correlates

Emily Hammond
University of Exeter, UK
Investigating the impact of mindfulness practice on embodied and subjective dimensions of emotion dynamics

Josipa Mihic
University of Zagreb, Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, Croatia
Towards caring and mindful schools model

Anne Maj van der Velden
Aarhus University, Denmark
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and maintenance antidepressant treatment: differential mechanisms in the treatment of recurrent depression

Nina Vollbehr
Center for Integrative Psychiatry, Lentis Mental Health Care, Groningen, the Netherlands
The effects of yoga-based therapy for patients with chronic mood and anxiety disorders: a randomized controlled trial


The Mind & Life Institute is deeply grateful to the Hershey Family Foundation, the principal sponsor of the 2015 Francisco J. Varela Grants.

In addition to the Hershey Family Foundation, we want to thank all the visionary contributors to the Francisco J. Varela Grants over the years: the John Templeton Foundation, Leslie Lykes de Galbert, The Mental Insight Foundation, Francene and Tim Orrok, and several anonymous individuals. On behalf of the Varela Grant recipients, and all who will benefit from their research, thank you for your benevolent support!

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