Research Publications

Our scientists, scholars, and staff collaborate with colleagues across disciplines and institutions to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of cultivating compassion and mindfulness and on individual and societal well-being.

Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT)

Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22: 219–230
Sheethal D. Reddy, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Brendan Ozawa-de Silva, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, Steve P. Cole, Charles L. Raison, Linda W. Craighead, (2013)

In this study, youth in foster care were offered Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) as a strategy to improve psychosocial functioning following exceptionally high rates of maltreatment.  Participants reported specific instances of using CBCT strategies to regulate emotion, manage stress, or to respond more compassionately towards others. Standardized self-report measures were not sensitive to qualitative reports of improved functioning, suggesting the need for measures more sensitive to the positive changes noted or longer training periods to demonstrate effects. Practical issues surrounding implementation of such programs in high-risk youth populations are identified. Recommendations are provided for further development.

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Psychoneuroendocrinology 38: 294—299
Thaddeus W.W. Pace, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Brendan Ozawa-de Silva, Sheethal D. Reddy, Steven P. Cole, Andrea Danese, Linda W. Craighead, Charles L. Raison (2013)

Youth exposed to early life adversity have been shown to have elevated levels of circulating inflammatory markers that persist into adulthood. In this study, a compassion meditation protocol, Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) was taught to youth in foster care to investigate the effect of meditation practice on levels of inflammatory marker C-Reactive Protein (CRP).  While no significant differences emerged between the CBCT and control groups, within the CBCT practice group, youth who reported more meditation practice time demonstrated lower levels of CRP, suggesting that engagement with CBCT may positively impact inflammatory measures relevant to health in adolescents at high risk for poor adult functioning as a result of significant early life adversity. Longer term follow-up will be required to evaluate if these changes are maintained and translate into improved health outcomes.

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Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities v2: 145-161
Brendan R. Ozawa-de Silva, DPhil, MPhil, MTS, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, MA, Charles L. Raison, MD, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD (2012)

Abstract: Recent years have seen a rapid growth in interest in the study of meditation and its health benefits, attention now broadening beyond simple relaxation techniques to other forms of meditation that involve the cultivation of positive mental states and emotions such as compassion. The scientific study of compassion suggests that compassion may be of crucial importance for our individual physical and psychological health. Moreover, because compassion relates fundamentally to how we as human beings relate to one another, its cultivation entails an ethical dimension that may be just as important as the medical and psychological dimension. In this article we supplement the emerging scientific literature on compassion by laying out a case for understanding compassion as a moral emotion intimately tied to the question of ethics and the cultivation of ethical sensibility. Second, we examine the individual and social benefits of compassion that support such a view. Thirdly, we describe in detail one method for the cultivation of compassion: Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT). We conclude by presenting current research programs employing CBCT and point to possible future directions in the study of compassion and its cultivation. 

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Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, v6
Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison, Eric L. Schwartz (2012)

The amygdala is frequently associated with the mind’s emotional reactions to positive and negative stimuli. Previous research has indicated that when one is in a meditative state, the amygdala’s response is decreased, regardless of level of meditation expertise.  This study explored the amygdala response of meditators in ordinary, non-meditative states, following training in mindfulness and compassion practices.

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Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, v8: 48-55
Jennifer S. Mascaro, James K. Rilling, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and Charles L. Raison (2012) 

The ability to accurately infer others’ mental states from facial expressions is important for optimal social functioning and is fundamentally impaired in social cognitive disorders such as autism. While pharmacologic interventions have shown promise for enhancing empathic accuracy, little is known about the effects of behavioral interventions on empathic accuracy and related brain activity. This study employed a randomized, controlled and longitudinal design to investigate the effect of a secularized analytical compassion meditation program, cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT), on empathic accuracy. Participants received functional MRI scans while completing an empathic accuracy task, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), both prior to and after completion of either CBCT or a health discussion control group. The findings suggest that CBCT may hold promise as a behavioral intervention for enhancing empathic accuracy and the neurobiology supporting it. 

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Psychoneuroendocrinology 35: 310—315
Thaddeus W.W. Pace, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Teresa I. Sivilli, Michael J. Issa, Steven P. Cole, Daniel D. Adame, Charles L. Raison (2010)

In addition to providing the first published data regarding stress responsivity as a potential predictor of subsequent ability/willingness to practice meditation, the current study strengthens findings from the research team’s initial work (found below; Pace, et. al, 2009) by supporting the conclusion that in individuals who actively engage in practicing the technique, compassion meditation may represent a viable strategy for reducing potentially deleterious physiological and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.

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Psychoneuroendocrinology 34: 87—98
Thaddeus W.W. Pace, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Daniel D. Adame, Steven P. Cole, Teresa I. Sivilli, Timothy D. Brown, Michael J. Issa, Charles L. Raison, (2009)

Meditation practices may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and relevant to disease. While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention, or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices that foster compassion. Accordingly, the current study examined the effect of compassion meditation on innate immune, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.

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Infant Ment Health J. 2020;41:126–144
Poehlmann-Tynan J, Engbretson A, Vigna AB, Weymouth LA, Burson C, Zahn-Waxler C, Kapoor A, Gerstein ED, Fanning KA, and Raison CL. (2020).

This study tests a group-based secular contemplative practice intervention, Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), with parents of young children. We report on a randomized controlled preliminary efficacy study. Certified teachers administered CBCT for 20 hr across 8 to 10 weeks in two cohorts of parents with infants and young children. The intervention group was compared to a waitlist control group. Thirty-nine parents and their children, who ranged in age from 4 months to 5 years, were evaluated at pre- and postintervention (n = 25 intervention, n = 14 waitlist control) on hair cortisol concentration. Parents also completed self-administered questionnaires at both time points regarding demographics, physical symptoms of stress, parenting stress, self-compassion, and mindfulness. Children of parents in the CBCT group experienced significant decreases in cortisol at the postintervention assessment, as compared with the control group. However, parent cortisol and self-report measures did not significantly change other than a small effect on clinical levels of parenting stress. CBCT may be a positive new way to intervene with parents to lower infants’ and young children’s cumulative physiological stress.

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Compassion, Empathy and Healthcare

Journal of Palliative Medicine, 18 (1), 26-30 
Back, A.L., Rushton, C.H., Kaszniak, A. W., and Halifax, J. S. (2015)

When the brutality of illness outstrips the powers of medical technology, part of the fallout lands squarely on front-line clinicians. In the researchers’ experience, this kind of helplessness has cognitive, emotional, and somatic components. This article draws upon social psychology, neuroscience and contemplative training to define a new approach to working with experiences of helplessness, to reframe and re-engage service to patients and families successfully. 

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Mortality, 10 (4), 262-275
Gill, M. B. (2005)

Through a focus on one child’s extended stay in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), the author raises four questions about pediatric medicine: How should physicians communicate with parents of very sick children? How should physicians involve parents of very sick children in treatment decisions? How should care be coordinated when a child is being treated by different medical teams with rotating personnel? Should the guidelines for making judgements of medical futility and discontinuation of treatment differ when the patient is a child rather than an adult? 

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Journal of Palliative Medicine, 16(9), 1-6
Rushton, C., Kaszniak, A., and Halifax, J. (2013)

Palliative care clinicians confront suffering as they care for people living with life-limiting conditions.

When the degree of suffering becomes unjustified, moral distress can ensue. Promising work from neuroscience and social psychology has yet to be applied to clinical practice. In this article, the authors expand upon a social psychology model focusing on empathy and compassion in response to suffering to include an ethical dimension and to examine how the interrelationships of its proposed components can assist clinicians in understanding their responses to morally distressing situations.

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The Garrison Institute, NY.
Sivilli, T.I., and Pace, T.W.W. (2014). 

Why do some people crumble under adversity while others bounce back stronger than ever? In this white paper, the authors define the concept of resilience and build a rationale for how contemplative practices (such as meditation and yoga) represent an effective means of developing qualities that contribute to resilience. They posit that contemplative practices promote resilience via positive impacts on specific psychobehavioral domains, brain activity, stress response, gene regulation and post-traumatic growth, and they review the evidence supporting these mechanisms. 

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Mindfulness and the Environment

In E. McMahon, B. Weinstein and A. Monson (eds.) Ground|Water: The Art, Design, and Science of a Dry River. Tucson, AZ: Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry, University of Arizona, (Distributed by University of Arizona Press), pp. 31-35
G. Garfin. 2012

The key climate, environment, and resource management issues in the Southwest all revolve around water. From the most remote outpost, seep, or spring to the largest farm, city, or river in the region, the quantity and quality of water is fundamental to the well-being of people, wildlife, ecosystems, rangelands, everything we value. This is true everywhere on earth, but it comes into sharp contrast in the arid southwestern United States and northern Mexico, home to four deserts (Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mohave, Great Basin), where surface water is scarce, perennial streams are rare, most lakes are man-made, and human population growth and economic activities have increased at rapid rates. This brief essay explores several Arizona water issues, including climate and societal challenges to sustaining water resources in this urbanizing, arid region. 

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Presented at the International Conference on Consumer Research (ICCR), Bonn, Germany 
Helm, S.V. (2014 September)

In the context of fostering pro-environmental behaviors, some emphasize that harnessing unconscious ”Stone-Age“ psychological biases is most effective and scalable. Cultivating mindfulness in a consumption context may provide a mechanism to tackle overconsumption and its detrimental effects on consumers (e.g., depression due to overspending or materialism), and the environment (e.g., resource waste, pollution). From a public-policy perspective, it is important to recognize the active role of consumer-citizens in determining whether interventions based on increased mindfulness or based on unconscious biases are more likely to succeed. In this conference presentation, consumer science researcher Sabrina Helm, Ph.D explores the development of a model integrating evolutionary-psychological perspectives of natural/biological decision-making biases and approaches for increasing mindfulness based on the proposition that both perspectives have common grounds and may complement each other. 

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Presented at the International Conference on Consumer Research (ICCR), Bonn, Germany 
Helm, S.V. (2014 September)

Increasing mindfulness of consumption has been suggested as a pathway to tackle overconsumption, a main driver of climate change, in that the consumer‘s mindset pertaining to his or her attitudes, values and expectations surrounding consumption behavior needs to evolve. MC not only addresses decisions made once a purchase need is elicited (e.g. choice of appliances with the energy star; ”green“ labels) but involves consideration whether a purchase is needed at all, and how consumers create new sustainable consumption and conservation options to fit their lifestyle. In this conference presentation, consumer science researcher Sabrina Helm, Ph. D explores and compares two theoretical perspectives on mindfulness (i.e. the Western socio-cognitive based approach and the Eastern Buddhist-meditation based approach) in the context of food overconsumption/food waste. 

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Western Philosophical Perspectives on Compassion

Gill, M. B. (2015), In press.

Many philosophers in the Western tradition have thought that loving all of humanity is the height of virtue.  But some of these same philosophers have been struck by the difficulty of developing affection as expansive as universal love.  This paper examines two such philosophers from the 18th century.  One of them — Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) — tried to cultivate love for all of humanity by developing an appreciation of the order and harmony of the universe as a whole.  The other — David Hume (1711-1776) — believed that while it is impossible to experience emotional concern for the human species as a whole, we can implement institutions and conventions that channel our naturally partial affections into impartial courses of action that accord with the goal of benefiting all of humanity. 

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