Research examines brain activity and selfless love

By Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

February 13, 2014

brewer-judsonCan neuroscience offer clues into the power of love?

Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, who recently joined the faculty at UMass Medical School as associate professor of medicine and psychiatry and director of research at the Center for Mindfulness, examined the subject in his lab at Yale University, according to a new paper on the research, “BOLD signal and functional connectivity associated with loving kindness meditation.”It was published in the journal Brain and Behavior.

Dr. Brewer (shown at right), adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, and colleagues studied the brain activity of novice and experienced meditators while they performed “loving kindness” meditation. Brewer describes the work for his blog on the Huffington Post.

“As practiced traditionally in Buddhist communities for centuries, and more recently in the West as part of insight meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction programs (among others), individuals were given the following instructions: ‘Please think of a time when you genuinely wished someone well. Using this feeling as a focus, silently wish all beings well, by repeating a few short phrases of your choosing over and over,’” Brewer wrote in the blog. “Similar to many forms of prayer, the intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love --just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return.”

Researchers compared the participants’ brain activity with that of previous research showing brain activity of romantic love and found different parts of the brain stimulated.

Read more in Brewer’s blog, and in the journal.