Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? A new study suggests the answer is yes. We can meditate in order to cultivate compassion and kindness, because meditation affects brain regions that make a person more empathetic to other peoples’ mental states.

Researchers used fMRI brain scans to prove that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.

Researcher Richard Davidson says, “Many contemplative traditions speak of loving-kindness as the wish for happiness for others and of compassion as the wish to relieve others’ suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion are central to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and mission,” says Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. “We wanted to see how this voluntary generation of compassion affects the brain systems involved in empathy.”

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