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Plasticity of the social brain: From training the mind and heart to a caring society.


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

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Singer, T. (2016). Plasticity of the social brain: From training the mind and heart to a caring society. Talk presented at "Compassion in Practice Continuing Education Course" at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Harvard Medical School. Boston, MA, USA. 2016-10-28 - 2016-10-28.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-FAD3-5
In the last decades our society has faced many global and economic problems that call for new solutions and change. Emerging fields such as affective-social and contemplative neurosciences have produced promising findings that may help inform such necessary changes. For example, plasticity research has suggested that training of mental capacities such as mindfulness and compassion is indeed effective and leads to changes in brain functions associated with increases in positive affect, pro-social behavior, and better health. I will introduce the ReSource Project, a large-scale multi-methodological one-year secular mental training program that aims at the cultivation of attention, interoceptive awareness, perspective taking, meta-cognition, compassion, and prosocial motivation. This study also includes new ways of training intersubjective socio-affective and socio-cognitive abilities such as empathy, compassion or cognitive perspective taking on others through daily dyadic practices with another person. This study is divided in three modules allowing us to distinguish effects based on a) attention/mindfulness, b) socio-affective, and c) socio-cognitive training. We assessed, in more than 200 subjects, over 90 measures, such as phenomenological reports, questionnaires, event-sampling data, as well as behavioral, brain, physiological and biological markers. I will present first training-module specific findings of subjective experience, stress reactivity, brain plasticity, markers of attention, compassion and Theory of Mind, body awareness and prosocial behavior. Moreover, based on these results I will critically discuss challenges related to the appropriate use of self-report measures in mindfulness research as well as the relevance of our results for the use of mindfulness programs in society. I will conclude by suggesting ways of how the cultivation of mental faculties and compassion could help formulate new economic models aiming at reintroducing secular ethics in society emphasizing the need to step into a global responsibility through personal change.