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Differentiation of empathy and compassion. Results from training studies.


Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer, T. (2016). Differentiation of empathy and compassion. Results from training studies. Talk presented at 50th Congress of the German Society for Psychology [Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie, DGPs]. Leipzig, Germany. 2016-09-20 - 2016-09-20.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-5236-A
Emerging fields such as the social, affective, and cognitive neurosciences have focused on the questions of how people relate to and understand each other. Hereby, the ability for cognitive perspective taking is differentiated from concepts of emotion contagion, empathy, and compassion; the former represents a cognitive route to the understanding of others, the latter a motivational and affective route. Recently, social neurosciences have started to investigate the plasticity of the social brain as well as the trainability of social emotions such as empathy and compassion and its effects on changes in brain functions associated with changes in subjective well-being, pro-social behavior, and health. One of these studies is a large-scale multi-disciplinary one-year secular mental training study, the ReSource Project, that aims at the daily cultivation of interoceptive awareness, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion as well as prosocial motivation and behavior. After a review of recent psychological and neuroscientific findings on the effects of mental training on the brain, subjective experience and behavior, I will provide empirical evidence for socio-affective brain plasticity after mental training of empathy or compassion. While empathy training enhanced negative affect and activation in brain networks associated with suffering, compassion training resulted in an increase of positive affect and activation in brain networks associated to affiliation and care. More importantly, the latter also enhanced prosocial behavior and reduces social stress. The findings will be discussed in the context of recent theories of social cognition.