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Positive Neuroscience$
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Joshua D. Greene, India Morrison, and Martin E. P. Seligman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199977925

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199977925.001.0001

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Toward a Neuroscience of Compassion

Toward a Neuroscience of Compassion

A Brain Systems–Based Model and Research Agenda

(p.125) 8 Toward a Neuroscience of Compassion
Positive Neuroscience

Yoni K. Ashar

Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna

Sona Dimidjian

Tor D. Wager

Oxford University Press

Despite substantial progress in the last decade toward understanding the neural building blocks of empathy, relatively little is known about the neural bases of compassion—a complex internal state characterized by prosocial motivation to improve the other’s condition. We integrate existing literature on empathy, altruism, and social cognition to develop a neuropsychological process-content model of compassion and compassionate behavior. In this model, compassion is comprised of multiple-component processes, including the generation of affective feelings, inferences about others’ mental states, and appraisal of the meaning of another’s suffering in relation to oneself. These component processes are supported by distinct brain systems, which represent content-specific feelings, judgments, and meaning representations in the form of unique spatiotemporal patterns of neural activity. Like an “attractor network,” these activity patterns dynamically interact both within and across networks, leading to system-wide configurations of network activity that characterize the response to the suffering individual. We use our dynamic process-content model of compassion as a framework for suggesting important future directions for compassion research.

Keywords:   compassion, altruism, empathy, compassion training, social cognition, emotion, meditation

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