Wish to be a face reader? Meditation is the trick

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person's ability to read the facial expressions.

man meditating
Man meditating

It’s seldom that we find people who can guess what’s going on in our mind only by looking at our face. Somewhere in the back of our mind, we wish to possess a quality like that. Recent study conducted by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience states that any human being can possess that quality through a specific meditation.

A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others, this boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

“It’s an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy,” said the lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University. “Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships.”

At Emory the study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership developed a meditation protocol on Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT that is originally derived from Tibetan Buddhist practices, but is secular in content and presentation.

“The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways, CBCT aims to condition one’s mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level,” explained Negi.

CBCT includes the mindfulness that we often associate mediation with along with more focus on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.

“These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others,” Raison says. “An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression.”

Previous studies at Emory found that practising CBCT reduced emotional stress and enhanced physical buoyancy in both young adults as well as high-risk adolescents in foster care. The new findings that CBCT meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and wellbeing, has only added to the growing database of the studies conducted to explore the effects of CBCT style of meditation.

The research team also included senior author Charles Raison, formerly a psychiatrist at Emory’s School of Medicine and currently at the University of Arizona, and Emory anthropologist James Rilling.



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