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Plasticity of the social brain or how to train your mind and heart?


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

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Singer, T. (2014). Plasticity of the social brain or how to train your mind and heart?. Talk presented at DGPPN Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Nervenheilkunde. Berlin, Germany. 2014-11-26 - 2014-11-29.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-FF8A-3
I will be introducing the field of social neurosciences focusing on the questions of how people relate to and understand each other. 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. Emerging fields such as affective-social and contemplative neurosciences have produced promising findings, suggesting that training of mental capacities such as attention, perspective taking, empathy and compassion is effective and leads to changes in brain functions associated with increases in positive affect, pro-social behavior, and better health. 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. After also summarizing findings on expert studies, I will introduce the ReSource Project, a large-scale multi-disciplinary and methodological one-year secular mental training program with more than 180 participants that aims at the daily cultivation of attention, interoceptive awareness, perspective taking on self and others, meta-cognition, prosocial motivation, and emotion regulation. This study also includes new ways of training the mind through contemplative intersubjective dyads supported by a web platform allowing for everyday practice with another person. First results of this large-scale, multi-method study will be presented and their implication for clinical science and society in general will be discussed.