A Critical Dialogue with The Dalai Lama and Leading Scientists and Education Experts Mind & Life Institute Dialogue to be Livestreamed from Dharamsala, India, March 12-16 CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia, March 6, 2018 — From March 12-16, His Holiness the 14th Dalai...
The 2018 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute, June 2-8 in Garrison, New York, brings together a diverse group of contemplatives, scholars, and scientists to explore the theme “Engaging Cultural Difference and Human Diversity.” The weeklong immersive program will examine...
In this month’s Fellow Spotlight we are pleased to share the work of Brooke D. Lavelle, PhD. Brooke is the Co-Founder and President of the Courage of Care Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating the co-creation of a more just,...
This is the second of two blog posts describing recent Mind & Life Conversations with the Dalai Lama and prominent thought leaders on the topic of “Compassion, Interconnection, and Transformation.” Photos by Phil Walker and Tenzin Choejor. At a time of...
The PEACE Grants support research on novel interdisciplinary approaches for investigating and nurturing wholesome mental qualities related to Prosociality, Empathy, Altruism, Compassion, and Ethics (PEACE). With this mechanism, Mind & Life will fund projects that advance our understanding of the mechanisms, implementation and outcomes of contemplative strategies to promote well-being and prosocial behavior in individuals and communities. In addition, we encourage the development of measures to rigorously assess these qualities in various real-world contexts.
Congratulations to our 2019 PEACE Grant Recipients:
Femke Bakker, PhD
Leiden University (The Netherlands) Can lovingkindness meditation support tolerant political behavior? A study into the impact of meditation on political behavior
Political tolerance, i.e., the willingness to put up with opposing behavior of others, is the oxygen of liberal democracy. It is expected to facilitate fair, peaceful political processes. Unfortunately, tolerance is a core democratic value that is hard to learn. Political scientists have inquired since long the best practices to foster tolerance within political communities. The dominant view is that cross-cutting exposure to other’s experiences and feelings, e.g. through deliberation, increases tolerance. However, recent studies show that deliberation does not lead to more tolerant political behavior per se. Psychological research shows that lovingkindness meditators significantly increase in pro-social attitudes. It thus seems plausible to expect (more) tolerant behavior from lovingkindness meditators. But will this tolerance extend to the complex and multi-leveled reality of politics? Strikingly, political science has not yet investigated this intriguing question. This study explores if lovingkindness meditation positively impacts on political tolerance. An experimental study will investigate if teaching participants lovingkindness meditation for 7 weeks will increase political tolerant behavior. These results will be compared with participants who will engage in political debate for 7 weeks and with an active control group.
Lisa Jaremka, PhD
University of Delaware Mindfulness as a novel intervention for improving romantic relationships
Romantic relationship quality declines over time for most couples. In addition, most first marriages end in divorce, and divorce rates have doubled during the past few decades among people over 35. Identifying interventions that improve compassionate love, empathy, and prosocial behavior between romantic partners is thus a critical goal. Our overarching aim is to experimentally test whether a mindfulness intervention improves compassionate love, empathy, and prosocial behavior between distressed romantic partners relative to an active control comparison. Distressed romantic couples from the community will be randomly assigned to one of two arms: mindfulness vs. active control. Both interventions will be completed on a smart-phone for 14 days using identical intervention activities as our existing published research. After the 14-day period, couples will attend a lab visit and complete the Compassionate Love scale and an adapted version of the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire. Couples will also complete a conflict discussion, a paradigm commonly used to assess objective relationship processes. An adapted version of the Rapid Marital Interaction Coding System (RMICS), will be used to assess compassionate love, empathy, and prosocial behavior during the discussion. If our aim is achieved, we will have identified a scalable intervention for enriching people’s romantic relationships.
Sara Lazar, PhD
Harvard University Contemplative peacebuilding in Colombia: A contemplative practice-based psychosocial support program for Colombian ex-combatants
Colombia has recently made unprecedented progress towards ending one of the longest armed conflicts in the world, entering a peacebuilding process which includes the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. However, psychosocial support is currently a small though critical component for ex-combatant reintegration. Our project aims to deliver and evaluate a contemplative-practice based psychosocial support program developed specifically to support Colombian ex-combatants in Colombia’s peacebuilding process. We will work in Medellin, Colombia with local partners to deliver and test the efficacy of this program through a combination of physiological, behavioral, and qualitative research methodologies. The proposed research aims to establish whether the program we’ve designed improves ex-combatants’ psychological health while providing initial evidence for how improvements in factors related to PEACE and trauma can support the well-being and healthy reintegration of ex-combatants to civilian communities. In addition, this research will help validate the use of this program as a tool for peacebuilding efforts in other Colombian regions. After our research, our local partners in Medellin will be the first to adopt this program as a permanent support structure for ex-combatants in Medellin.
Sarah Ssali, PhD / Evelyn Lutwama-Rukundo, PhD
Makerere University (Uganda) From violence and victims to voices and visions: Exploring the power of mindfulness to effect lasting positive change in post-conflict settings in Northern Uganda
Most post-war accounts highlight the vulnerability of females and violence of males; interventions therefore focus on providing relief hand-outs, stripping the populations of any agency. Using Stepping Stones for Peace and Prosperity (StSt4P&P)’s community-based mindfulness techniques grounded in inter-personal neurobiology, this study explores how post-war populations, and males in particular, can develop prosocial and compassionate positive gender identities. Community members will be supported to rethink and reshape masculinities, creating and developing a future collective strategic vision for peace and community well-being. The study will be undertaken in three parishes of Gulu district of Northern Uganda. The study population will involve three cohorts, each comprising peer groups of younger and older males and females. The study will use qualitative and quantitative methods, within a stepped wedge design. Specific methods will include focus group discussions, the Triangle of Mental Health Well-being, quantitative surveying of gendered social norms and behaviours, observation, and semi-structured interviews.
Erin Tully, PhD / Laura McKee, PhD
Georgia State University SHAPE JOY: A program to nurture empathic happiness in children through contemplative parenting practices
Young children seem to be wired to notice and enjoy the happy experiences of others, but this tendency to experience “empathic happiness” seems to fade in later childhood when it is replaced by self-doubt, envy, and worry. This process of losing the natural inclination for empathic happiness is exacerbated for some children who become dysregulated during social interactions. The SHAPE JOY (Socializing Happiness and Promoting Empathic Joy in Our Youth) program is designed to help parents develop their mindful parenting through contemplative parenting practices that support children’s ability to self-regulate while being mindfully aware of their empathetic happiness. First, SHAPE JOY content (e.g., instructional videos that teach mindful parenting skills and demonstrate contemplation activities) will be finalized using feedback from focus groups of parents and children. Second, in a wait-list control randomized trial design, observations of parent-child interactions, parent ratings scales, and physiological measures will be used to test the efficacy of SHAPE JOY for facilitating contemplative parenting practices and children’s empathetic happiness during program contemplation activities and in everyday contexts. Our goal is to develop a program that easily fits into families’ daily routines, strengthens parent-child contemplation practices, and supports the foundations of children’s empathic happiness.
Helen Weng, PhD
University of California, San Francisco Measuring mental states during lovingkindness meditation using individualized brain patterns: A community-engaged investigation
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.
Nava Levit-Binnun, PhD / Michal Reifen-Tagar, PhD Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel Using a contemplative conflict resolution intervention to promote teachers’ and youth’ beneficial engagement in controversial discussions and intergroup encounters
Enabling respectful discussion between rival social viewpoints is currently one of humanity’s most important challenges. Powerful socio-psychological barriers, including negative intergroup perceptions, emotions, beliefs and biases, are known to play a crucial role in fueling social conflicts, by increasing intolerance and blame toward the outgroup. A mindfulness-based compassionate conflict engagement intervention, which combines mindfulness, empathy, communication skills and conflict resolution tools, will be tested in the context of volatile conversations and intergroup encounters. The intervention will be taught to Jewish and Arab teachers in 12 schools, prior to their students meeting each other. We hypothesize that both within the school context and during the encounters, the teachers that have participated in the intervention, and their students that have received from them those skills, will show more empathy and understanding toward the outgroup, will be better-able to hold productive dialogue on volatile issues and will exhibit more support for intergroup relations.
Brett Ford, PhD / Allison Troy, PhD University of Toronto / Franklin & Marshall College Can emotional acceptance promote political action? Leveraging contemplative science to promote positive social action
In today’s contentious political climate, we must identify pathways that promote positive social action. Collective political action (e.g., voting, volunteering), in particular, can powerfully shape society for the better – but what can individuals do to promote collective action? We propose that the contemplative strategy of emotional acceptance should allow individuals to harness the power of their emotional responses to political events and engage in productive forms of action. Three studies will test our hypotheses: Study 1 examines whether emotional acceptance predicts greater day-to-day motivation to engage in collective action in geographically, demographically, and politically-diverse U.S. adults. Study 2 examines whether emotional acceptance predicts greater collective action within liberal grassroots organizers. Study 3 examines whether a laboratory intervention can increase acceptance and, in turn, engagement in collective action. Together, these studies will significantly expand our scientific and practical understanding of how contemplative strategies can promote positive social change.
Yoona Kang, PhD / Emily Falk, PhD University of Pennsylvania Neurogenetic mechanisms of self-transcendence and purpose in life
Purpose in life refers to having a sense of goals, values and directions in life. Individuals whose life’s purpose is to benefit others beyond self-interests are thought to have self-transcendent purpose. Self-transcendent purpose is a trait as well as trainable skill: Some people are genetically predisposed to a tendency for compassion and prosociality, but others would need to be taught through intervention strategies like lovingkindness meditation or affirmation to cultivate self-transcendent purpose. We propose a study that examines gene-brain interactions during self-transcendence training and their influences on purpose-related outcomes. We will examine whether allelic variations of oxytocin and dopaminergic receptor genes, implicated in sensitivity to social and reward information respectively, may modulate the neural activity and effects of self-transcendence training. Examining the linkage between genes, brain, and purpose in life can inform careful tailoring of intervention strategies that can maximally benefit cultivation of self-transcendent mindsets and social actions.
Heidemarie Laurent, PhD / Larissa Duncan, PhD University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign /University of Wisconsin at Madison Neurobehavioral effects of prenatal mindfulness training on maternal presence and compassionate love
A large body of research has shown that mindfulness training can improve individual well-being. However, effects on the prosocial qualities expressed in real-life interpersonal relationships are mixed, and the biobehavioral mechanisms underlying such potential effects remain largely unknown. We propose to address this gap by studying how prenatal mindfulness training tailored to focus on family relationships impacts the way mothers relate to their infants. In particular, we will examine differences between women who have completed the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program during pregnancy and those who have not had such training on both neural and behavioral measures of (a) presence with and (b) compassionate love for their child. This research will help to further understanding of how mindfulness practice benefits not only the individual, but also interpersonal relationships and the well-being of subsequent generations.
Yoni Levy, PhD / Eran Halperin, PhD Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel Combining immersive virtual environments and contemplative techniques to increase empathy and decrease anger in intergroup conflicts
Intergroup conflicts serve as the primary cause of wars and violence around the world. Such conflicts are often triggered and maintained by intense antisocial emotions (e.g., anger), and can potentially be attenuated by prosocial emotions (e.g., empathy). Discovering effective approaches to decrease anger and increase empathy, therefore, is of critical importance. Several contemplative techniques involve emotion regulation processes (e.g., cognitive reappraisal and perspective taking) that can effectively decrease anger, increase empathy, and may therefore contribute to conflict resolution. Yet, to employ these techniques, people must be motivated to do so and this is less likely to occur in conflictual contexts. Recent advances in virtual reality technologies may address this challenge by combining virtual reality with contemplative techniques. In two consecutive behavioral and neuroimaging studies, we will evaluate whether a pre-designed virtual experience can enhance the effects of contemplative techniques in conflictual contexts, and consequently promote positive intergroup relations.
Gloria Luong, PhD Colorado State University Testing a compassionate community actively living mindfulness (CCALM) intervention: elucidating individual and dyadic pathways to PEACE character virtues
The project will examine how Prosociality, Empathy, Altruism, Compassion, and Ethics (PEACE) character virtues may change with transitions to assisted living arrangements among older adults and their romantic partners. The project will employ a novel contemplative practices intervention program we developed called Compassionate Community Actively Living Mindfulness (CCALM) into the healthcare system. We will strategically focus on this population because older adults transitioning into assisted living and their spousal caregivers are at risk for greater perceived stress, depression, and health issues, which may undermine abilities to engage in PEACE behaviors. Additionally, by recruiting this sample, we will test how our CCALM intervention utilizing contemplative practices may promote PEACE character virtues in this distressed segment of the population, and the extent to which both partners show similar/diverging prospective changes in character virtues while dealing with a novel and enduring stressor in their lives.
Doris Chang, PhD
New School for Social Research Mindfulness-based Critical Consciousness Training for Teachers (MBCC-T): Development, pilot test, and comparison to two control groups
African American, Latino, Native American, and Southeast Asian students, demonstrate significant educational underachievement and poorer behavioral outcomes compared to their White and other Asian American peers. These disparities emerge as early as preschool, and are reflected in poorer achievement test scores, and higher rates of drop-out, suspension, and expulsion from school. While acknowledging that many educational disparities reflect structural inequalities, the proposed project targets the role of teachers–their cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to diverse students—and the potential impact they can have in reducing these disparities. Teacher education programs regularly incorporate training in culturally-responsive pedagogy; however many White teachers struggle to apply these skills due to feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and shame that often arise in interracial contexts. We propose to conduct a randomized controlled pilot trial of Mindfulness-Based Critical Consciousness training for Teachers (MBCC-T), which applies mindfulness interventions to address the cognitive, affective, and interpersonal barriers to the creation of equitable and inclusive learning environments. K-5 teachers will be randomized to receive MBCC-T, critical consciousness training alone, or mindfulness training alone. Changes in multicultural teaching competence, implicit and explicit racial attitudes, classroom climate, mindfulness, self-compassion, and burnout will be tracked pre- and post-intervention, and 4-months later.
James Coan, PhD
University of Virginia Sustainable Compassion Training’s effects on neural threat and social support
Social support is empirically linked to health and well-being, but the mechanisms of this link remain speculative along with target interventions that maximize social support during stressful times. Knowledge of these mechanisms and interventions is needed for a full understanding of the receipt and provision of care, particularly among those working in high stress environments and at risk for burnout. The proposed research will elucidate 1) the basic mechanisms of care received, care given, and empathy, 2) the role these mechanisms play in supportive behavior, 3) the role these mechanisms may play in stress, and 4) the specific impact of a targeted compassion-based contemplative practice on all of the above. The Sustainable Compassion Training (SCT) model leverages a set of contemplative practices to focus on what it is like to see and love, and to be seen and loved, unconditionally, while cultivating a decision to engage in emotional support without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by empathic concern. Specifically, we will, across two occasions of measurement among a normative sample of 160 college-aged students, evaluate the impact of SCT, in comparison to Mindfulness Training (MT).
Annemarie Gockel, PhD and Peggy O’Neill, PhD
Smith College From barriers to bridges: Investigating contemplative approaches to social justice
Fostering meaningful dialogue about social inequities is a key contemporary social challenge. Despite participants’ best intentions, all too often conversations about social inequities are as likely to reinforce stereotypes and foster acrimony, as they are to facilitate mutual understanding and promote progress towards social justice. We have developed a training program called the Critical Conversations Project that brings university students together to have facilitated dialogues about social inequity. Drawing on contemplative practices, the program provides students with training in reflecting on power differentials as they play themselves out in our day to day experiences. Students also receive explicit training and support in managing the stress involved in these conversations and taking care of themselves while remaining engaged in the exchange. Students will be randomly assigned to diverse course formats to see which formats best promote increased awareness of social oppression and increased prosocial behavior.
Jennifer Mascaro, PhD and Charles Raison, PhD
Emory University CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) at the hospital bedside
Although hospital chaplains play a critical role in delivering emotional and spiritual care to a broad range of both religious and non-religious patients, there is remarkably little research on the best-practices of chaplaincy training or “active ingredients” of chaplain spiritual consults. CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) is a secularized compassion meditation program that improves empathic accuracy and enhances well-being, and it may be an ideal addition to both chaplain training programs and to the spiritual consults provided by hospital chaplains. Here we describe a program of research to evaluate the impact of CBCT on both chaplain residents and their subsequent clinical spiritual consults. First, we will examine whether CBCT enhances chaplain empathic accuracy and self-reported compassion and protects against burn-out. We will also use audio recordings of chaplain-patient interactions and patient chart reviews to systematically examine the elements in compassion-informed spiritual care that impact health outcomes. The proposed study will examine whether CBCT is an effective addition to spiritual healthcare and provide first-of-its-kind data on the linguistic components of chaplain intervention, which will contribute to a deeper understanding of the skillful means by which the wisdom of compassion may be translated to reduce suffering and enhance well-being.