Posts Tagged ‘Amygdala’

Part Three: right side amygdala is larger

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As we’ve seen, enhancing a compassionate attitude goes beyond a mere outlook; people actually grow more likely to help someone in need even when there’s a cost to themselves.

 

Such intense resonance with others’ suffering has been found in another notable group: extraordinary altruists, people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger in dire need of a transplant.

 

Brain scans discovered that these compassionate souls have a larger right-side amygdala compared to other people of their age and gender.

 

Since this region activates when we empathize with someone who is suffering, a larger amygdala may confer an unusual ability to feel the pain of others, so motivating people’s altruism—even as extraordinarily as donating a kidney to save someone’s life.

 

The neural changes from loving-kindness practice (the emerging signs of which are found even among beginners) align with those found in the brains of the super-Samaritan kidney donors.

 

The cultivation of a loving concern for other people’s well-being has a surprising and unique benefit: the brain’s circuitry for happiness energizes, along with compassion.

 

Loving-kindness also boosts the connections between the brain’s circuits for joy and happiness and the prefrontal cortex, a zone critical for guiding behavior.
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Part two: “Altered Traits”: Different methods of meditating

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Seven years after his three-month retreat experiment ended, Cliff Saron tracked down the participants.

 

He found a surprise among those who, during and just after the retreat, were able to sustain attention to disturbing images of suffering—a psychophysiological measure of acceptance, as opposed to the averted gaze and expression of disgust he found in others (and which typifies people in general).

 

Those who did not avert their eyes but took in that suffering were, seven years later, better able to remember those specific pictures.

 

In cognitive science, such memory betokens a brain that was able to resist an emotional hijack, and so, take in that tragic image more fully, remember it more effectively—and, presumably, act.

 

 

 

Unlike other benefits of meditation that emerge gradually—like a quicker recovery from stress—enhancing compassion comes more readily.

 

 

 

We suspect that cultivating compassion may take advantage of “biological preparedness,” a programmed readiness to learn a given skill, as seen, for instance, in the rapidity with which toddlers learn language.

 

Just as with speaking, the brain seems primed to learn to love.

 

“This seems largely due to the brain’s caretaking circuitry, which we share with all other mammals.

 

These are the networks that light up when we love our children, our friends—anyone who falls within our natural circle of caring.

 

These circuits, among others, grow stronger even with short periods of compassion training.
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