Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Role of "the Mindful Brain" in the Development of Empathic Concern (Part One)

In researching methods for the development of empathic concern, we find that the syncretic nature of visceral, affective, somatic, and cognitive interactions creates a complex system of emergent emotional phenomena.  Accounting for these intricacies within a research design becomes problematic without first determining the proper vocabulary to accurately represent the nature of this system.   Drawing from the realm of mathematics provides one source for descriptors.  Daniel Siegel, in his book The Mindful Brain, using complexity theory specifically, explains the logic of our human systems by writing that “an integrated state enables the most flexible, adaptive, and stable states to be created within a dynamical, complex system.” 

Only when this mode of thinking is combined with the constantly growing lexicon provided by evolutionary biology and advancements in brain research can we begin to express the interconnected nature of neurological development.
The development of empathic concern itself involves several facets of interaction that build upon each other, an evolution both psychical and physical.  In addition to initial instances of secure attachment, later stages of life include the development of a self-regulating equilibrium. 

Siegel later describes a triad of mental well-being as including “coherence of mind, empathy of relationships, and neural integration.”

To be continued....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Defragmentation of the Empathic Space

One unfortunate consequence of the increasing sophistication and ubiquity of technology has been the reduction of empathy and compassion in everyday life. Due to the distracting effect of mobile computing, the average individual disconnects from his or her immediate environment and the people within it in favor of communication with a small network of nonadjacent friends, either through phone, text, chat or e-mail. They are not necessarily engaged with the space around them and do not actively pay attention to, empathize with, or feel compassion for others in the immediate vicinity.

In order to reverse the trend of empathic fragmentation that leads to lower levels of everyday compassion, the neural mechanisms behind compassion development must be revealed and methods for augmenting compassion must be designed and researched. This would then allow us to introduce a new level of social awareness into our technological dynamic by way of an ambient intelligence that leverages intimate media to effect both the level of concern and intimacy felt by an individual towards others.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Using Intimate Media to Parallel Traditional Compassion Development Methods with Implications for Ambient Intelligence

(some note on importance culturally/socially and technologically/scientifically.  more to come.)

The generation of a compassionate mood rests in two dimensions: concern and intimacy.  Concern can also be called caring or more specifically empathic concern. Intimacy can also be understood as the level of connectedness one person feels with another or with the process itself of compassion development.  Therefore, it must be taken into account that intimacy in this case refers to both the nature of the media presented for constructive reflection and the space or environment in which it is presented. Both have implications for research design. 

Neurologically, it is interesting to note that the very mechanism which allows us to function in everyday life by allowing us to realize that others can hold views contradictory to our own, called the Theory of Mind, keeps human beings from fully being able to see another as self.  This separation, key to social development and lacking in autistic individuals, provides a boundary that cannot be overcome.  Complete autonomous functioning would then be the other extreme of the connectedness spectrum. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Report on "Love hurts: An fMRI Study"

Report on "Love hurts: An fMRI Study"*

How much we relate to someone else or engage with them correlates to the amount of intimacy we feel when interacting with or thinking of that person.  We are more intimate with loved ones than with strangers and this translates into how much empathy we feels towards them and how much compassion we can generate for that person.    Cheng, et al.  in their article “Love hurts: An fMRI study” describe the mechanism of intimacy “as including the other in the self...” They specifically studied empathy of pain, looking at the neural network involved in the “pain matrix”. 

They discovered that not only does imagining a love one in pain cause greater activity in the pain matrix, but it also causes less activation in those regions associated with distinguishing self from another, such as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is involved with an individual’s Theory of Mind, “allowing overlap between self and the other”.

From the direction of compassion development, one obstacle to empathic growth towards strangers rests in difficulty of evoking a stranger's perspective.  Specifically, as those portions of our neural network are dampened in activity when we think of strangers, how can we overcome that in a productive way in order to foster compassion development?

* Love hurts: An fMRI study
Yawei Cheng a,b,⁎,1, Chenyi Chen a,1, Ching-Po Lin a, Kun-Hsien Chou c, Jean Decety d
a Institute of Neuroscience, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
b Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, National Yang-Ming University Hospital, Yilan, Taiwan
c Institute of Biomedical engineering, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
d Departments of Psychology & Psychiatry, and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, the University of Chicago, IL, USA
a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Received 15 September 2009
Revised 10 February 2010
Accepted 16 February 2010
Available online 24 February 2010