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Friday, September 12, 2008

Can We Change Our Brains for the Better?

Psychologist Richard Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has received a 2.5 million dollar grant from the Fetzer Institute to study the neuroscience of compassion, love, and forgiveness, and how we might cultivate and nurture these virtues in our daily lives. “This is totally uncharted territory,” Davidson said in a news release. “This grant is really meant to launch a new field where the wisdom of the contemplative traditions can intersect with hard-nosed mainstream science to understand how the brain can be transformed, through certain exercises, to strengthen these kinds of positive qualities.”
Davidson will be a familiar name to those who have followed the development of positive psychology. For years, he's studied the brains and meditation practices of Tibetan monks, finding good evidence of "neuroplasticity," the idea that our brains can change in response to experience and mental training exercises throughout our lives. We may even be able to train our brains to be more compassionate and empathetic, according to a study he published in March in the journal PLoS ONE.
The new project, says Davidson, is part of a larger center in development at the Waisman Laboratory called the Center for Creating a Healthy Mind, which is scheduled to open in about a year. —Heather Wax


brain exercises and neuroplasticity said...

Thanks for the post. It's great that this kind of research is being funded. All of the evidence about neuroplasticity indicates that we should be able to organically alter our responses to make ourselves sympathetic, etc.; the trick will be to find a quantifiable method of doing so!!

(I personally believe that some methods of cognitive therapy already achieve this; it just hasn't been measured.)

On a similar subject; your readers might be interested in Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl's study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008); they recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of more than 40% after 19 days of focused brain training.

I was so impressed that I contacted the research team and developed a software program using the same method.
Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro

Martin Walker
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