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Stanford is studying monks to see how compassion affects the brain.

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A brain scan of a monk actively extending compassion shows activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with reward processing.

Stanford neuroscientists are studying the science of meditation and compassion:

Can extending compassion to another person look the same in the brain as anticipating something good for oneself? And who better to test than Tibetan monks, who have spent their lives pursuing a state of selfless nonattachment?


"Right now we're trying to first develop the measurement of compassion, so then one day we can develop the science around it," says Stanford neuroeconomist Brian Knutson.


"Essentially when you spend a lot of time meditating, the brain shows a pattern of feeling safe in the world and more comfortable in approaching people and situations, and less vigilant and afraid, which is more associated with the right hemisphere," says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director for the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.


"It's an empirical question at this point, but it's remarkable that a sense of purpose in life, a belief that your goals and values are coming more into alignment with your past and projected future is likely affecting something at the level of your molecular biology," says Clifford Saron, a research neuroscientist leading the study at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.

Knutson's study is funded by Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which was started with a sizable donation of seed money from the Dalai Lama after his 2005 campus visit to discuss fostering scientific study of human emotion.


Jared, that compassion is good for your health truly is awesome.

And generosity is contagious, too.

it's funny in the sad way how little this is touted in today's world...would be good if it was a brick we are constantly hit in the head with instead of the usual

Being compassionate toward others increases happiness and self-esteem and reduces stress.

Self-compassion (forgiving yourself for errors vs beating yourself up) results in:

Seems pretty good overall. So why aren't we all more compassionate?

Compassion seems to be tied to being powerless. The poor are more compassionate. Thoughts of death increase compassion. Personal tragedy grants us compassion.

Power, on the other hand, reduces empathy. Those with power don't need to rely on the kindness of others. Compassion reduces their options.

Most of us, all other things being equal, prefer being in a powerful position -- so we're constantly at war with the idea of being compassionate. We want to be kind but we'd like to have the better options of the powerful and not be dependent.

And it's not that power is evil. We don't necessarily want our leaders to be compassionate all the time. We know they have to make tough choices and look at the big picture.

In some ways, compassion may be just another strategy: we rely on reciprocation when we're weak and take advantage when we're strong. Most of us flip back and forth unconsciously and rationalize the shifts after the fact.

But compassion can also be a choice. If we want power, frankly, it's often not the best one. But if we want to be happy -- and happiness is tied to gratitude, relationships, and appreciation -- it's the better way to go.

These links are fantastic, Eric.

I'm going to be clicking and reading for a while...

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