Plasticity of the Social Brain: From Training the Mind and Heart to a more Caring Society
Tania Singer (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences)

June 10, 2015, 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room 349
Third Floor, Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

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In the last decades our society has faced many global problems both on the macro- as well as individual level that call for new solutions and change. Emerging fields such as affective-social and contemplative neurosciences have produced promising findings that may help inform such necessary changes. For example, plasticity research has suggested that training of mental capacities such as mindfulness and compassion is indeed effective and leads to changes in brain functions associated with increases in positive affect, pro-social behaviour, and better health.

I will introduce the ReSource Project, a large-scale multi-methodological one-year secular mental training program that aims in three separate 3-month modules at the cultivation of attention, interoceptive awareness, perspective taking on self and others, compassion, and prosocial motivation. This study also includes new ways of training social intelligence and understanding through intersubjective dyads with another person. We assessed, in more than 200 subjects, over 90 measures, such as phenomenological reports, questionnaires, event-sampling data, as well as a wide range of behavioural (e.g., attention, Theory of mind, emotion-regulation, compassion), brain (functional and structural), physiological (e.g., autonomic markers in virtual reality) and biological data (immune system and stress markers). I will present first training-module specific findings of functional and structural brain plasticity, stress-reduction, and increases in interoceptive body awareness and prosocial behaviour using a wide range of behavioural paradigms including game-theoretical paradigms form economics. I will conclude by suggesting ways of how the cultivation of mental faculties and compassion could help formulate new economic models aiming at reintroducing secular ethics in society emphasizing the need to step into a global responsibility through personal change.

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