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Training compassion and cognitive perspective taking separately: First evidence for differential mental training effects

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Trautwein,  Mathis
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kanske,  Philipp
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Böckler,  Anne
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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

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Citation

Trautwein, M., Kanske, P., Böckler, A., & Singer, T. (2014). Training compassion and cognitive perspective taking separately: First evidence for differential mental training effects. Poster presented at European Summer Research Institute of the Mind & Life Institute, Chiemsee, Germany.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A461-5
Abstract
While first evidence exists that mental training of compassion and loving-kindness can increase socio-affective experiences like empathy and compassion and shape their underlying neural processes, it is not known whether similar plasticity exists for social cognitive skills, such as the ability to take the perspective of another, also commonly referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM). Furthermore, a crucial question is whether beneficial training effects on compassion or ToM are elicited only by specific practices, or generalize across different types of meditation. In a large-scale longitudinal study, the ReSource project, we assessed behavioral markers and neural correlates of empathy, compassion, and perspective taking within a novel fMRI video paradigm, the EmpaToM. Over nine months, two cohorts of 80 participants each underwent a structured 9-month curriculum and were tested before and after each of three 3-month training modules (presence, affective, perspective). Here we compared the differential effects elicited by the affective module that focused on cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion to the perspective module that involved perspective taking of self and others. Preliminary analysis of behavioral data (n = 116 subjects completing all four measurement timepoints) suggests a differential increase in perspective taking performance after perspective compared to affective training. Furthermore, there was a more generalized increase of compassion across both of these modules. Analysis of fMRI data acquired during the task will be used to characterize accompanying functional plasticity in neural networks associated with social affect and cognition.