Published Research Supported By CCARE Scientists.
Since its inception, CCARE has supported and collaborated on a number of groundbreaking research projects that have resulted in cross-disciplinary publications on the science of compassion. Below, please find a list of our publications with a summary of their findings.
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Simon-Thomas, E. R., Godzik, J., Castle, E., Antonenko, E., Ponz, A., Kogan, A., & Keltner, D. J. (2012). An fMRI study of caring vs. self-focus during induced compassion and pride. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7(6), 635-648. doi:10.1093/scan/nsr045
This study compared brain regions activated during compassion, an other-oriented emotion, to brain regions activated during pride, a more self-focused emotion. Slides were used to induce either compassion or pride and emotions were measured using fMRI. Compassion was associated with activity in the “empathy network,” regions of the brain responsible for pain and the perception of others’ pain as well as parental nurturing behaviors. Pride, on the other hand, was associated with activity in regions associated with thoughts about oneself.
Jazaieri, H., Jinpa, G., McGonigal, K., Rosenberg, E., Finkelstein, J., Simon-Thomas, E., Cullen, M., Doty, J., Gross, J., & Goldin, P. (2012). Enhancing compassion: A randomized controlled trial of a Compassion Cultivation Training program. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1113-1126. doi:10.1007/s10902-012-9373-z
This study measured the impact of a compassion training program on fear of compassion and self-compassion. Furthermore, the study asked whether compassion can be trained and cultivated. Participants filled out questionnaires before and after a 9-week Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program. The scientists observed a decrease in fear of compassion and an increase in self-compassion. The data also suggest that certain elements of compassion can be cultivated through training.
Berger, R. & Zimbardo, P. (2012). Creating a partner: A qualitative study of political extremists and ex-gang members who have chosen the antiviolence path. Retrieved from The Council on Foreign Relations website: http://www.cfr.org/radicalization-and-extremism/save-supporting-document-creating-partner/p26892
This study looks at the determinants of the ‘psychological code’ of former extremists: former gang members and former extremist Israelis and Palestinians. The study examines factors leading these previously violent groups of people towards reconciliation by examining three theoretical perspectives: dispositional, characterological, and interactionalist. It was found that the interactionalist model may be the best to explain transitions from violent extremism to reconciliation and peacekeeping activity. The interactionalist model argues that prosocial behavior is determined by predispositions equally along with situational and cultural factors.
Dastjerdi, M., Foster, B. L., Nasrullah, S., Rauschecker, A. M., Dougherty, R. F., Townsend, J. D., Chang, C., Greicius, M. D., Menon, V., Kennedy, D. P., & Parvizi, J. (2011). Differential electrophysiological response during rest, self-referential, and non-self-referential tasks in human posteromedial cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, 108(7), 3023-3028. doi:10.1073/pnas.1017098108
This study examined activation in the human posteromedial cortex, a region of the brain also called the “default mode network.” Electrophysiological measurements of the DMN during rest and while thinking about oneself were used and it was found that different regions of the DMN were activated during rest vs. during thoughts about the self. This region is activated during rest as well as during thoughts about oneself and is de-activated during activity directed outward. Researchers have speculated that its activation during rest signifies activation of thoughts about oneself during rest.
Yizhar, O., Fenno, L. E., Prigge, M., Schneider, F., Davidson, T. J., O’Shea, D. J., Sohal, V. S., Goshen, I., Finkelstein, J., Paz, J. T., Stehfest, K., Fudim, R., Ramakrishnan, C., Huguenard, J. R., Hegemann, P., & Deisseroth, K. (2011). Neocortical excitation/inhibition balance in information processing and social dysfunction. Nature, 477(7363), 171-178. doi:10.1038/nature10360
Severe behavioral deficits in psychiatric diseases such as autism and schizophrenia have been hypothesized to arise from elevations in the cellular balance of excitation and inhibition (E/I balance) within microcircuitry in the brain. This novel study used optogenetic tools to investigate this hypothesis in freely moving mammals, and to explore the associated circuit physiology. Elevation, but not reduction, of cellular E/I balance within the mouse medial prefrontal cortex was found to elicit a profound impairment in cellular information processing, associated with specific behavioral impairments and increased high-frequency power in the 30-80 Hz range, which have both been observed in clinical conditions in humans. Consistent with the E/I balance hypothesis, the opposite thereof partially rescued social deficits caused by E/I balance elevation. These results provide support for the elevated cellular E/I balance hypothesis of severe neuropsychiatric disease-related symptoms.
Bocchiaro, P. & Zimbardo, P. G. (2010). Defying unjust authority: An exploratory study. Current Psychology, 29(2), 155-170. doi: 10.1007/s12144-010-9080-z
This study examined disobedience in the face of unjust authority. Participants were asked to give increasingly hostile comments to a participant/victim whenever he failed a trial. In order to better understand some of the cognitive and affective processes that may predict such defiant behavior, we utilized a variety of measures, among them, behavioral observations, individual difference assessments, and in-depth post-experimental interviews. Although 30% of the sample followed commands to insult the other participant (confederate), the majority refused to do so at some point in the escalating hostility sequence. The procedure utilized conditions known from prior research to increase the ratio of disobedience to obedience such as proximity of teacher to learner.
Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351-374. doi:10.1037/a0018807
This study aimed to answer the questions: What is compassion? And how did it evolve?
This review article integrates three evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct emotional experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Compassion elicits distinct thought processes tuned toward undeserved suffering; distinct behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. The article concludes by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.
Cooper, J. C., Kreps, T. A., Wiebe, T., Pirkl, T., & Knutson, B. (2010). When giving is good: Ventromedial prefrontal cortex activation for others’ intentions. Neuron, 67(67), 511-521. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.06030
This study examined whether brain regions associated with judging other people’s intentions would react differently in the face of altruistic versus selfish motives. Participants took part in an economic game during functional magnetic resonance imaging. When the game was described in terms of donations, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) activation increased for inferring generous play and decreased for inferring selfish play.