Richard J. Davidson – Neuro-scientist – scientific quest for compassion

by Bijay
Richard J. Davidson – Neuro-scientist – scientific quest for compassion

This video is a recording of Google tech talk where Davidson explains the different experiments that he and Mattthieu Ricard undertook to understand the compassion training and how this will impact the way we live, how we teach our children in schools and how we tackle those in prison to help them adjust to the society. He has some interesting predictions on how our educational system will change to make it more compassion oriented.

Renowned Neuro-scientist Richard J. Davidson talks about their work to understand the mind and how it functions and gets impacted by external factors like meditation.

Richard J. Davidson

Matthieu Recard and Richard Davidson Experimenting

Aside from having a PHD in neuro-biology Ricard is also a long time practitioner (Monk) of Buddhist meditation. He is also a close confidant of Dalai Lama. He has done extensive research and practice in compassion meditation. Ricard is also known as the “happiest man in the world”.

How to generate compassion – through a meditative practice. Ricard has a developed a protocol that helps novices get introduced in the path of compassion.

Long term practitioners of meditation as found in this experiment have brain responses markedly different from average human beings.

Heart and Brain are interconnected during the generation of compassion. MRI scans of the heart and cardiac functions are measured. It was found that there was an elevation of heart rate during compassion generation in the long term practitioners of meditation. Nero cardiac coupling during compassion generation is detected.

Entry level expertise in any type of complex domain starts at 10,000 hours. But many of us who have a daily life to live don’t have this type of time. So the question is “can short-term compassion training affect the brain?”

With 2 weeks of training 30 minutes per day, the affect on the mind was measured in a randomized control trial. The training was developed administered over the internet.

Here are the elements of the training:

  • Contemplate and visualize the suffering and then wishing the freedom from that suffering for:
    • A loved one
    • Themselves
    • A stranger
    • A difficult person
    • All beings
  • Phrase most used: “May you be free from suffering. May you experience joy and ease.”
  • Instructed to notice visceral sensations (especially in the area of the heart).
  • Instructed to feel the compassion emotionally; not simply repeat phrases cognitively.


These experiments will help individuals take ownership of their health. It will also help the concept of sustainable well being – directly experience their interdependence with the environment.
Sustainable well being = psychological well being divided by ecological or carbon footprint.

Predictions: What will happen in 2050 as the advancement in knowledge of meditation and mind improves:

  1. Mental exercise will be accepted and practiced in the same way physical exercise is today
  2. We will have a science of virtuous qualities
  3. We will incorporate the mind back into medicine and better understand how the brain can modulate peripheral biology in ways that affect health.  This will lead us to take more responsibility for our own health.
  4. We will develop a secular approach to provide methods and practices from contemplative traditions to:
    1. Teach teachers and children ways to better regulate emotions and attentions and cultivate qualities like kindness and compassion
    2. Transform corrections so that forgiveness can be cultivated in victims and emotions regulation and stress reduction in offenders
    3. Increase awareness of our interdependence upon others and upon the planet and be more responsible caretakers of our precious environment.
    4. Promote their more widespread adoption into the major institutions of our cultures. This will help to restore civility, humility, gratitude and other virtues in our culture.
For more information:

Other people involved in this project:

    • Antoine Lutz
    • Helen Weng
    • Drew Fox
    • Heleen Slagter
    • Julie Brefczynski
    • John Dunne
    • Andy Francis
    • Jenna Sheftel
    • Donal MacCoon
    • Dave Perlman
    • Daniel Levinson
    • Melissa Rosenkranz
    • Katherine Bonus
    • Larry  Greischar
    • Andy Alexander
    • Isa Dolski
    • Donna Cole
    • Susan Jensen
    • Bonnie Thorne

At 15 min time Matthieu Ricard