Neural and Psychological Effects of Compassion Training: A Systematic Review

University essay from Högskolan i Skövde/Institutionen för biovetenskap

Abstract: Compassion is an affective state and comprises recognition of the suffering of others and a motivation to help them. Studies have indicated that compassion is trainable and compassion training based on contemplative practice has beneficial effects on well-being. The primary aim of this thesis was to conduct a systematic review on the functional and structural neural effects of compassion training in healthy adults. The secondary aim was to review the psychological or behavioral changes after compassion training in the reviewed articles. Eight articles employing compassion meditation or loving-kindness meditation, and applying the same definition of compassion, were reviewed. The neural effects of compassion training were diverse, but changes in the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC), the amygdala, and reward-related areas were the most consistent outcomes. Also, compassion training resulted in increased positive affect and feelings of compassion, decreased depression scores, and more charitable donations (i.e., prosociality). The findings of this systematic review suggest that compassion training engages a broader neural network than previous studies have indicated and is a strategy that may lead to improved well-being andprosocial behavior. 

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