Occasionally, our blog will highlight research which we personally find interesting.
What I enjoyed most about my Ph.D. dissertation, and research in general, was that it enabled me to spend a lot of time just reading stuff that I found utterly fascinating.
My dissertation dealt with the effect of currently experienced and anticipated emotions on human decision making – some of the books on this subject which I can absolutely recommend are Antonio Damasio‘s “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain” and “The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness“, Jon Elster‘s “Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions“, and “The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions” edited by Paul Ekman and Richard J. Davidson.
Writing about the effects of emotions, I gradually became more interested in methods of introspection, i.e. the observation of my own mental processes. Subsequently I also discovered my interest in Buddhism, which I view as a non-dogmatic and introspective “Science of the Mind” rather than as a religion, and which has increasingly attracted the attention of western psychologists and neurobiologists.
Aforementioned Richard J. Davidson has been conducting an fMRI study, involving 15 expert meditators (Buddhist monks) and 15 meditation novices, on how meditating on empathy and compassion influences the neural circuitry responsible for feeling these emotions. I’ve actually been waiting for the results of this study, and only discovered today that it had been published in PLoS One a month ago (since PLoS is open access, you can read and download the study for free; The Scientific American was also reporting). The results indicate that you can indeed shape your brain to feel more compassionate towards others by regular meditation practice. Hooray for neuroplasticity!
Coincidentally, I was planning to join a meditation class offered by London’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), starting in May. My co-founders will be delighted since I’ve been known to become a bit irritable and cranky when I’m tired and under stress – a state not unheard of in start-up life. A little more compassion and empathy in those situations should do me good.