Podcast Transcript: We’re in the midst of a revolution in brain science. The long-held dogma that brain connections are unchangeable after age five, is being usurped with findings that the brain is more plastic than we thought.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a study in PLoS One this week, showing that our capacity for empathy can be learned and mastered – as one might learn to play soccer or piano. The skill here comes from meditation.
They studied the fMRI scans of 32 subjects, half were trained meditators including the Olympians of meditation, the Tibetan monks. The others were age-matched novices.
In the brain scanner, all were subjected to emotional sounds (like a baby laughing or woman screaming.)
They found that the insula (the area of the brain responsible for physical feelings of compassion) was highly active in the experts. And the right temporal-parietal juncture (an area connected to understanding anothers’ emotional state) was also much more active in experts than in the novices.
It may not be proof that we can turn a schoolyard bully into Gandhi, but it shows meditative training has a significant impact.