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      Effects of compassion training on brain responses to suffering others

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          Abstract

          Compassion meditation (CM) is a promising intervention for enhancing compassion, although its active ingredients and neurobiological mechanisms are not well-understood. To investigate these, we conducted a three-armed placebo-controlled randomized trial ( N = 57) with longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We compared a 4-week CM program delivered by smartphone application with (i) a placebo condition, presented to participants as the compassion-enhancing hormone oxytocin, and (ii) a condition designed to control for increased familiarity with suffering others, an element of CM which may promote compassion. At pre- and post-intervention, participants listened to compassion-eliciting narratives describing suffering others during fMRI. CM increased brain responses to suffering others in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) relative to the familiarity condition, p < 0.05 family-wise error rate corrected. Among CM participants, individual differences in increased mOFC responses positively correlated with increased compassion-related feelings and attributions, r = 0.50, p = 0.04. Relative to placebo, the CM group exhibited a similar increase in mOFC activity at an uncorrected threshold of P < 0.001 and 10 contiguous voxels. We conclude that the mOFC, a region closely related to affiliative affect and motivation, is an important brain mechanism of CM. Effects of CM on mOFC function are not explained by familiarity effects and are partly explained by placebo effects.

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          Most cited references 102

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          People thinking about thinking people. The role of the temporo-parietal junction in "theory of mind".

          Humans powerfully and flexibly interpret the behaviour of other people based on an understanding of their minds: that is, we use a "theory of mind." In this study we distinguish theory of mind, which represents another person's mental states, from a representation of the simple presence of another person per se. The studies reported here establish for the first time that a region in the human temporo-parietal junction (here called the TPJ-M) is involved specifically in reasoning about the contents of another person's mind. First, the TPJ-M was doubly dissociated from the nearby extrastriate body area (EBA; Downing et al., 2001). Second, the TPJ-M does not respond to false representations in non-social control stories. Third, the BOLD response in the TPJ-M bilaterally was higher when subjects read stories about a character's mental states, compared with stories that described people in physical detail, which did not differ from stories about nonhuman objects. Thus, the role of the TPJ-M in understanding other people appears to be specific to reasoning about the content of mental states.
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            Relationship of subjective and objective social status with psychological and physiological functioning: preliminary data in healthy white women.

            This preliminary study compared the associations between objective and subjective socioeconomic status (SES) with psychological and physical variables among 157 healthy White women, 59 of whom subsequently participated in a laboratory stress study. Compared with objective indicators, subjective social status was more consistently and strongly related to psychological functioning and health-related factors (self-rated health, heart rate, sleep latency, body fat distribution, and cortisol habituation to repeated stress). Most associations remained significant even after controlling for objective social status and negative affectivity. Results suggest that, in this sample with a moderately restricted range on SES and health, psychological perceptions of social status may be contributing to the SES-health gradient.
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              Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

              Kindness-based meditation (KBM) is a rubric covering meditation techniques developed to elicit kindness in a conscious way. Some techniques, for example, loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation, have been included in programs aimed at improving health and well-being. Our aim was to systematically review and meta-analyze the evidence available from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the effects of KBM on health and well-being against passive and active control groups in patients and the general population. Searches were completed in March 2013. Two reviewers applied predetermined eligibility criteria (RCTs, peer-reviewed publications, theses or conference proceedings, adult participants, KBM interventions) and extracted the data. Meta-analyses used random-effects models. Twenty-two studies were included. KBM was moderately effective in decreasing self-reported depression (standard mean difference [Hedges's g] = -0.61, 95% confidence interval [CI] [-1.08, -0.14]) and increasing mindfulness (Hedges's g = 0.63, 95% CI [0.22, 1.05]), compassion (Hedges's g = 0.61, 95% CI [0.24, 0.99]) and self-compassion (Hedges's g = 0.45, 95% CI [0.15, 0.75]) against passive controls. Positive emotions were increased (Hedges's g = 0.42, 95% CI [0.10, 0.75]) against progressive relaxation. Exposure to KBM may initially be challenging for some people. RESULTS were inconclusive for some outcomes, in particular against active controls. The methodological quality of the reports was low to moderate. RESULTS suffered from imprecision due to wide CIs deriving from small studies. KBM showed evidence of benefits for the health of individuals and communities through its effects on well-being and social interaction. Further research including well-conducted large RCTs is warranted.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
                Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
                scan
                Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
                Oxford University Press (UK )
                1749-5016
                1749-5024
                October 2021
                05 May 2021
                05 May 2021
                : 16
                : 10
                : 1036-1047
                Affiliations
                departmentDepartment of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder , Boulder, CO 80309, USA
                Weill Cornell Medical College , New York, NY 10075, USA
                departmentDepartment of Psychology, University of Arizona , Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
                Upaya Institute and Zen Center , Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
                departmentDepartment of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder , Boulder, CO 80309, USA
                departmentRenee Crown Wellness Institute, University of Colorado Boulder , Boulder, CO 80309, USA
                departmentDepartment of Psychology and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College , Hanover, NH 03755, USA
                Author notes
                Correspondence should be addressed to Tor D. Wager, Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, HB 6207, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. E-mail: tor.d.wager@ 123456dartmouth.edu .
                Article
                nsab052
                10.1093/scan/nsab052
                8483284
                33948660
                0dc17815-98c9-4b14-bf04-6f9b3d35f047
                © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Page count
                Pages: 12
                Product
                Funding
                Funded by: National Institute on Drug Abuse, DOI 10.13039/100000026;
                Award ID: R01DA035484
                Funded by: John Templeton Foundation, DOI 10.13039/100000925;
                Award ID: Positive Neuroscience Project
                Funded by: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, DOI 10.13039/100006108;
                Award ID: TL1-TR-002386
                Categories
                Original Manuscript
                AcademicSubjects/SCI01880

                Neurosciences

                compassion training, empathy, mindfulness, placebo, burnout

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