2020 Summer Research Institute

Cultivating Prosocial Development Across the Lifespan: Contexts, Relationships, and Contemplative Practices

Important Update Concerning COVID-19:

In light of the most recent COVID-19 predictions, the Mind & Life Institute is moving our annual Summer Research Institute to an online format, allowing our accepted applicants to learn, engage, and connect digitally during the original dates of Monday, June 8 – Saturday, June 13.

Accepted applicants will be contacted directly in the weeks to come with more information concerning the program schedule and how to register for the online event.

If you have any questions, please email programs@mindandlife.org.

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The Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (SRI), now in its seventeenth year, is a week-long immersive, residential program held annually at the Garrison Institute in New York. Unlike traditional academic conferences, this unique program provides opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines as well as inquiry through first-person reflection and contemplative practice. Embodying the mission of Mind & Life, the SRI bridges science and contemplative wisdom to illuminate our shared humanity and inspire action. It moves away from hierarchies of knowledge to foster an integrative, richer, and fuller understanding of the mind and society, focusing on current issues that can eventually lead to positive action in the world.   

Based on a process of inquiry and dialogue, the SRI is designed to foster collaborative research among diverse participants who have a stake in societal flourishing: scientists, humanities scholars, contemplative practitioners, social activists, and applied professionals.

The long-term objective is to advance the training of interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice on mind and behavior, brain function, and health, including the potential role of contemplative methods in shaping and enriching human experience and society. The program incorporates plenary lectures, panel discussions, breakout groups, poster presentations, networking opportunities, and daily contemplative time (meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking in nature, contemplative arts, and silent periods including two half-day “retreat” periods). The program also features daily affinity and interest groups where participants are able to come together in a safe space to discuss and find support around topics related to specific research interests and/or identity. With engaging faculty, a lovely retreat setting, and a rich and varied format, SRI sparks not only new ideas and collaborations, it fosters intellectual humility, a professional commitment to research aimed at a higher good, and a personal commitment to reflection and inquiry. Participants who attend the SRI as New Investigators become eligible to apply for the Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Research Grants.

The goals of the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute are:

  1. To create a meaningful learning exchange among scientists of mind and behavior, humanities scholars, contemplative practitioners, applied professionals, and changemakers. Such rich dialogue provides opportunities to spark new research ideas and interdisciplinary collaborations that explore the mind from an integrative perspective (including first-, second-, and third-person approaches) and the effects of contemplative practices, as well as the impacts of our social and physical environments, on mind, behavior, brain, and health.
  2. To create a context for this dialogue that a) embodies a contemplative orientation through daily meditation and movement practice periods, contemplative arts-based sessions, and dedicated periods of silence; and b) fosters meaningful connections and group cohesiveness for safety in self-expression and diversity of views through structured and unstructured networking time, affinity and interest groups, and an end-of-week sharing and celebration.
  3. To foster a new generation of nascent scientists and scholars (undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs), contemplative practitioners, and changemakers interested in innovative and interdisciplinary collaborative research.
  4. To catalyze the field of contemplative research. This includes how contextual factors shape the mind, how contemplative practices engender effects on brain, mind, and behavior, and how these effects can support both individual and societal flourishing.
  5. To train in emerging methods and best practices, examine future opportunities and challenges within contemplative research, and explore their application to improving social institutions and policies.

We gratefully acknowledge the Hershey Family Foundation for its generous, continued support of Mind & Life’s Summer Research Institute since the program’s inception in 2004.

Previous Summer Research Institutes

Political strife, immigration, cultural and racial conflict, environmental concerns, depression and distraction – these issues and many more influence our daily lives as we struggle to find personal well-being and social harmony. How does the latest research on mental habits, contemplation, and compassion inform opportunities to create change for ourselves and others?
The 2019 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute addresses critical questions that are at the core of understanding contemplative practices and interventions, and how they can reduce suffering and cultivate individual and social flourishing. We define mental habits as perceptual, emotional, and cognitive processes that shape and bias how we perceive self, others, and the world. Here we focus on those habits that tend to support individual, cultural, and institutional behaviors that result in suffering and a lack of compassion and equity.
How do such mental habits impact behavior? How can we change such habits through individual and structural contemplative interventions? We will discuss sophisticated methods and measurement strategies for assessing mechanisms of change.
This theme extends the arc from the 2016, 2017, and 2018 programs that addressed contemplation in relation to context, social connectivity, intersubjectivity, cultural diversity, and pressing problems related to human health and wellbeing, social harmony and integration, and fair, just, and equitable societies.

Faculty: Lawrence Barsalou, PhD, Amit Bernstein, PhD, Doris F. Chang, PhD, Yoona Kang, PhD, Tanya Luhrmann, PhD, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, PhD, john a. powell, PhD, Anil Seth, PhD, Larry Yang, Alisa Dennis, PhD, Laura Schmalzl, PhD, Peter Wayne, PhD

The 2018 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute extended the arc from the 2016 and 2017 programs that addressed themes of context, social connectivity, and intersubjectivity by engaging critical topics relevant to cultural difference and human diversity. Social and psychological patterns, both implicit and explicit, were examined to discuss how difference is constructed at personal, interpersonal, and socio-structural levels. The processes of othering and how we can overcome conflict by embracing difference were given attention through scientific, humanistic, and first-person contemplative perspectives. Plenary faculty presentations from neuroscientists and psychologists described basic mechanisms of distinguishing self and other as well as cultural and developmental factors providing our sense of security and provoking our common fears. Discussions from the social sciences explored cultural, historical, and structural factors that complexify conditions for disparity and inequity across social groups and communities, often contributing to conflict and dissonance. Philosophical presentations discussed worldviews through which the other is interconnected to one’s self, how difference is a source of power, and the process of perspective-taking through dialogue. A training workshop and small group breakout sessions explored practical applications for reflecting on biases and engaging difference. Through first-person practice, contemplative traditions were explored as a resource for compassion and redressing injustice.

Faculty: Suparna Choudhury, PhD, Polly Young Eisendrath, PhD, Michael Onyebuchi Eze, PhD, Marisela Gomez, MD, PhD, Lasana Harris, PhD, Bruce Knauft, PhD, Robert Roeser, PhD, MSW, Helen Y. Weng, PhD, Louis Komjathy, PhD, Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, Laura Schmalzl, PhD, RYT, Larry Yang, Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta, PhD, Rhonda Magee, JD, MA, Daniel J. Siegel, PhD, William Waldron, PhD

The 2017 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (SRI) gave attention to scientific, humanistic and first-person contemplative perspectives on intersubjectivity and social connectivity. Plenary presentations, workshops and small group discussions explored interrelational human dynamics, including how we relate to ourselves and others, and to community and strangers. Faculty presented research findings on the meditative cultivation of pro-social emotions, intergroup dynamics, social and embodied cognition, cognitive ecology, implicit bias and social justice. Also examined were how these experiences are embodied in the brain, nervous system and cellular health. By deepening inquiry through this week-long interdisciplinary dialogue, we investigated ways in which social and cultural histories shape subjective and collective values, beliefs and purpose in life, and the mind-body complex. Discussions highlighted scientific research on the interconnectivity of mind and physiological health as well as environmental and technological influences on interpersonal connections and social cognition. Workshops engaged participants in facilitated trainings on critical issues in transdisciplinary research methods as well as social diversity and inclusion in the contemplative sciences.

Faculty: Jim Coan, Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta, Hanne de Jaegher, Elissa Epel, Pete Fleming, Peter Grossenbacher, Rhonda Magee, Jessica Morey, Lisbeth Nielsen, Harold D. Roth, Cliff Saron, David A. Sbarra, Catherine Shaddix, Tania Singer, Evan Thompson, Thupten Gyaltsen Dorje Rinpoche, William Waldron, Peter Wayne, Wendy Weber

This SRI examined the theme of context, and its relevance for basic mental processes as well as effects of contemplative practices. Findings from the cognitive and social sciences, humanities, and philosophy increasingly suggest that context shapes mind in fundamental ways. And as we are well aware, practices that were once embedded within traditional religious cultures are now being widely disseminated across a variety of globalized, largely secular settings. Contextual factors impact the very course and outcome of these practices, and if not carefully considered, even well-intended efforts can lead to unsatisfactory or incomplete results. However, incorporating contextual factors into scientific research remains methodologically and logistically challenging. Effectively measuring the impact of variables such as social, cultural, emotional, neurophysiological, and physical contexts continues to raise many practical and philosophical questions with no easy answers.

Faculty: Al Kaszniak, PhD, Catherine Kerr, PhD, Laurence J. Kirmayer, MD, Brooke D. Lavelle, PhD, Rhonda V. Magee, JD, David McMahan, PhD, Andreas Roepstorff, PhD ,Sharon Salzberg,Catherine Shaddix, PhD, Martijn van Beek, PhD, Peter Wayne, PhD, Helen Weng, PhD, Carol Worthman, PhD

This SRI examined the issues of fear, trust, and social relationships. Drawing on research in both the sciences and the humanities, including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and contemplative studies, the event featured presentations on the biological and experiential aspects of fear, its influence on our cognition and emotion, and its expression in both healthy states and clinical disorders. Critically, the role of trust and interpersonal connection as a counterpoint to fear was also examined, addressing the protective functions of secure attachment and compassion. Finally, contemplative practices were explored as means of working with fear and cultivating social bonds.

Faculty: Willoughby Britton, Jim Coan, Richard Davisdon, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Wendy Farley, Bronwyn Finnigan, David Fresco, Jared Lindahl, Al Kaszniak, Cade McCall, Lama Willa Miller, Martin Paulus, Sharon Salzberg Catherine Shaddix, Phil Shaver, Peter Wayne

This SRI examined the issue of craving and its possible transformation. Drawing on research in both the sciences and the humanities, including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and contemplative studies, the event featured presentations on the biological and experiential aspects of craving and desire, the role of intention or volition in mediating our response to craving, and the possibilities for transformation that are held within the fundamental nature of desire. It also examinined how craving, attachment, and desire can be a hindrance to the full potential for human development and flourishing, and explored contemplative practices to help remediate problems stemming from craving, ranging from negative mental patterns to drug addiction.

Faculty: Larry Barsalou, Sarah Bowen, Judson Brewer, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Wendy Farley, Roshi Joan Halifax, Sandy Huntington, Anne C. Klein, Siri Leknes, Sara McClintock, Yin Mei, Giuseppe Pagnoni, Esther Papies, Sharon Salzberg, Catherine Shaddix, John Vervaeke, Peter Wayne, Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, Arthur Zajonc

Drawing on research in neuroscience, basic psychological science, clinical psychology, philosophy, and contemplative studies, this SRI focused on the effort to develop comprehensive maps of the mind and its potential for development and transformation. Such an effort includes the development of rich conceptual, phenomenological, and scientifically based taxonomies of mental processes, as well as scientific investigations aimed at understanding functional interrelations between key cognitive, affective, and volitional processes and their behavioral expressions. From this knowledge, important implications for translational research in clinical, educational, and other social domains can be discovered.

Faculty:  Michel Bitbol, Richard J. Davidson, Jake Davis, John D. Dunne, Roshi Joan Halifax, Maria Heim, Thupten Jinpa, Alfred Kaszniak, John Makransky, Sara McClintock, John Peacock, Luiz Pessoa, Claire Petitmengin, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Catherine Shaddix, Robert Sharf, Evan Thompson, Rebecca Todd, Arthur Zajonc

The 2012 SRI was devoted to the theme, “The Situated and Embodied Mind.” Drawing on research in neuroscience, basic psychological science, clinical psychology, philosophy, and contemplative studies, this SRI focused on ways to integrate the study of embodied and situated cognition and emotion into contemplative science. Special attention was given to the role of the body in contemplative practices, and to biobehavioral investigations of these practices that go beyond exclusive focus on the brain.

Faculty:  Bhikhu Annalyo, Lawrence Barsalou, Susan Bauer-Wu, George Chrousos, Linda Craighead, Richard Davidson, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Sona Dimidjian, Andrew Dreitcer, Richard Freeman, Roshi Joan Halifax, Rebecca Todd, Cathy Kerr, Anne Klein, Sara McClintock, Sharon Salzberg, Michael Spezio, Mary Taylor, Evan Thompson, Peter Wayne

Highlighting research in neuroscience, basic psychological science, clinical psychology, philosophy,  and contemplative studies, this SRI was focused on outstanding challenges for the development of contemplative neuroscience, contemplative clinical science, and contemplative studies in light of the progress made in these fields since the SRI’s inception. This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Francisco Varela, the Mind & Life Institute’s founding scientist. We therefore also gave special attention to considerations about the future of contemplative science in light of his vision for collaboration between contemplative traditions and mind-brain science.

Faculty: Willoughby Britton, Kalina Christoff, Geshe Dorji Damdul, Richard Davidson, Andrew Dreitcer, John Dunne, Richard Freeman, Roshi Joan Halifax, Maria Heim, Amishi Jha, Alfred Kaszniak, Barry Kerzin, Ottmar Liebert, Antoine Lutz, David McMahan, Giuseppe Pagnoni, Chakravarthi Ram-Prassad, Matthieu Ricard, Sharon Salzberg, Cliff Saron, Geshe Jampal Senge, Mary Taylor, Evan Thompson

The 2010 SRI was focused on linking the work in contemplative science and practice with the work in the developmental sciences — including developmental neuroscience — to provide a scientific foundation from which we can investigate the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential challenges of introducing secularized versions of contemplative practices into public educational settings. Drawing upon research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, the 2010 SRI highlighted mental skills and socio-emotional dispositions that we believe are central to the aims of education in the 21st century.

Faculty: Trish Broderick, Margaret Cullen, Geshe Dorji Damdul, Richard Davidson, Adele Diamond, Monique Ernst, Mark Greenberg, Bridge Hamre, Diego Hangartner, Patricia Jennings, Will Kabat-Zinn, Sat Bir Khalsa, Torkel Klingberg, Linda Lantieri, Robert Roeser, Harold Roth, Sharon Salzberg, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Catherine Shaddix, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, David Vago, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Arthur Zajonc, Phillip Zelazo

This SRI was devoted to the self, its development in sociocultural and contemplative contexts, and its implications for human flourishing and social transformation. Topics included conceptualizations of self and identity in various traditions; the development of self in normative and contemplative contexts; the neurobiology of the self, its development, and associated plasticity; the processes of self-identification and their effects on life outcomes such as health, education, well-being, and social relations; the phenomenology of the “embodied sense” of identity, ownership, and agency in experience and the relation of these first-person perspectives to the brain and body across development; the concept of “self-regulation” and its relation to issues of mental causation, free will, and a variety of life outcomes; the role of self processes in psychological illness; and finally, self versus no-self views on the fundamental nature of the mind and consciousness.

Faculty: Adam Anderson, Kalina Christoff, J. David Creswell, Wil Cunningham, Richard Davidson, Sona Dimidjian, Georges Dreyfus, John Dunne, Shaun Gallagher, Sherryl H. Goodman, Roshi Joan Halifax, Alfred W. Kaszniak, Berry Kerzin, Nawang Khechog, Anne Klein, Dorothée Legrand, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Robert W. Roeser, Perrine Ruby, Sharon Salzberg, Emma Seppala, Sensei Beate Genko Stolte

The 2008 SRI investigated the relation between attentional processes and emotional self-regulation. In recent years, emotional self-regulation and attention have emerged as central themes in psychology (clinical and developmental) and neuroscience (affective and cognitive). Yet little work has been done to link findings about attention in cognitive psychology and neuroscience to findings about emotional self-regulation in clinical and developmental psychology and affective neuroscience. This gap reflects a long-standing separation of cognition and emotion in the brain and cognitive sciences, but one that has become increasingly untenable. Contemplative mental training, including the psychological and philosophical theories of mental functioning that inform this training, open new avenues for investigating the complex relations among emotion, attention, metacognition, cognitive appraisal, affect and feeling, and the voluntary self-regulation of mental states.

Faculty:  James Austin, Susan Bauer-Wu, Michel Bitbol, Sylvia Boorstein, James Carmody, Richard Davidson, Georges Dreyfus, Sona Dimidjian, John Dunne, Wendy Farley, Jacquelynne Eccles, Barbara Frederickson, Jeremy Gray, Roshi Joan Halifax, David Hykes, Amishi Jha, Alfred Kaszniak, Barry Kerzin, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, Anne C. Klein, Marc Lewis, Antoine Lutz, David E. Meyer, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Luiz Pessoa, Matthieu Ricard, Sharon Salzberg, Clifford Saron, Emma Seppala, Tania Singer, Neil D. Theise, Evan Thompson, Alan Wallace, Philip David Zelazo

In these first years of the Summer Research Institute, the programs aimed for a meaningful dialogue between modern psychology on the one hand, and the domain of contemplative practice on the other. These two epistemologies constitute different ways of investigating and understanding the mind. For such dialogue to occur, it was important for the participants to appreciate the theoretical commonalities and differences between contemplative and modern scientific perspectives. Hence, attention was given to cogent issues inherent in studying the mind. The scientific emphasis included developing rigorous experimental designs to evaluate both state and trait effects of contemplative practice, clinical trials methodology for evaluating the impact of meditative-based interventions, and potential experimental designs for incorporating “first-person” contemplative methods into cognitive/affective neuroscience research on consciousness.

Faculty:  Ing Gerardo Abboud, John Astin, James Austin, Ruth Baer, Willoughby Britton, Kirk Warren Brown, John Canti, Linda Carlson, Jane Carpenter-Cohn, Jonathan Cohen, Richard Davidson, Georges Dreyfus, Sona Dimidjian, John Dunne, Brent Field, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, Owen Flanagan, Marcia Grabowecky, Paul Grossman, Roshi Joan Halifax, Anne Harrington, Sik Hin Hung, Amishi Jha, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Kahneman, Alfred Kaszniak, Dacher Keltner, Margaret Kemeny, Barry Kerzin, Stephen Kosslyn, Jean Kristeller, Sara Lazar, Antoine Lutz, Janet Metcalfe, David E. Meyer, Paul J. Mills, Lis Nielsen, Ken Paller, Matthieu Ricard, Gelek Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Andreas Roepstroff, Harold Roth, Sharon Salzberg, Clifford Saron, Jonathan Schooler, Bennett M. Shapiro, Philip Shaver, Dan Siegel, Heleen A. Slagter, Evan Thompson, Anne Treisman, William Waldron, Alan Wallace, Shinzen Young