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Emory students in Dharamsala, India, Research & Service

Compassion Meditation Study

The range of avenues of exploration in the area of meditation as it relates to various aspects of science and health is nearly unlimited. Similarly, the need for preventative practices that catalyzes improved overall health has never been greater.

Based on an appeal by Emory undergraduate Molly Harrington (C '05), who recognized the need for preventative ways of addressing stress and depression at Emory, the Emory-Tibet Partnership and the Emory Mind-Body Program forged an innovative study in 2005 to examine the impact of compassion meditation in treating depression among undergraduates.

The results of the study showed an unequivocal correlation between the practice of compassion meditation and the prevention and reduction of depression levels in students. The results of this study have been published in Pace Pace et al. (2008) and Pace et al. (2009) showing that the practice of compassion meditation reduced neuroendocrine, inflammatory and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress that have been previously linked to the development of mental and physical disease.

The promising results of this project and the potential impact of these practices led to the formation of the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies, one of the university's key strategic initiatives. It has also led to the initiation of a Meditation Program for Preventive Health at Emory University, which offers this tested method of compassion meditation back to the Emory community as a preventive health service—an example of the Emory-Tibet Partnership's commitment to linking teaching, exchange across traditions, research, and service for the augmentation of world knowledge and overall well-being.

Compassion and Attention Longitudinal Meditation (CALM) Study

This NIH-funded longitudinal study, which builds off of the previous compassion research study, examines whether practicing compassion meditation will optimize physiological responses to psychosocial stress, with a focus on inflammatory signaling pathways and behavioral distress. We will also evaluate whether meditation practice affects naturalistic speech and behavior in ways that enhance emotional well being and health - not just of the meditation practitioner but of other people in his or her social environment.

Compassion Training for Atlanta’s Group Foster Care Youth

In early 2009, Geshe Lobsang Negi, Charles Raison, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, and Brendan Ozawa-de Silva piloted a compassion meditation program for youth in Atlanta's group foster care system. The program trained six girls (age 13-16) in engaged compassion as a means for developing inner resilience and building stronger, healthier relationships. The girls later shared with external reviewers how powerfully the meditation had helped them in their relationships. One girl said the training transformed her relationship with her estranged adoptive mother. The success of this pilot has led to on-going studies investigating the effects of compassion training in this population. In 2010 the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA funded a randomized, wait-list control trial of CBCT for seventy-two foster children, entitled “A Study of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) to Enhance Health and Well-Being in Adolescents in Foster Care in Metropolitan Atlanta.” The study, the results of which have not yet been published, examined the efficacy of this training for reducing emotional reactivity, psycho-social stress, and behavioral problems. Dependent upon the results of the study, the aim is to extend this service throughout the foster care system and to offer similar training programs to foster families, caseworkers, and administrators.

The methods employed and the results of these pilot programs are described in Ozawa-de Silva and Dodson-Lavelle (2011). Additionally, full video footage of presentations on this work at the conference “Compassion Meditation: Mapping Current Research and Charting Future Directions” at Emory University in 2010 with the participation of H.H. the Dalai Lama is available at: www.emory.edu/home/academics/dalailama/visit.html

Educating the Heart and Mind: The Emory-Paideia Compassion Project

The CBCT protocol was also piloted in 2009 among elementary school children (ages 5-8) in the Atlanta area. This program followed the same conceptual sequence as the adult program, but with age-appropriate modifications. Classes met twice per week for twenty-five to thirty minutes per session during the normal school day. Classes began with a short meditation practice and a brief overview or introduction to the week’s topic, followed by an activity, story, or game to facilitate learning and student engagement. Once we had found an age-appropriate way to convey the topics of the CBCT protocol through such stories and games, we were encouraged to find that even the young elementary-school children were able to grasp the essential concepts involved in the protocol. More information on the ways in which we have adapted CBCT for children is described in Ozawa-de Silva and Dodson-Lavelle (2011).

On the basis of the pilot program for young elementary school children, our team received a grant from Emory University to run a study using an eight-week long intervention in the 2011-2012 school year at the Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia to evaluate the effects of CBCT on prosocial behavior, bullying, social exclusion, stereotypying and bias in collaboration with Dr. Philippe Rochat and Erin Robbins, both of Emory University. We have also been invited to offer a CBCT program for students at Mornindgside Elementary School, a public school in Atlanta, GA.

CBCT for Trauma

In May 2010 researchers from Emory University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) field-tested CBCT in Kosovo to investigate its potential to heal the trauma of war. Members of our broader research team at Emory University, including Dr. Nadine Kaslow and Dr. Barbara Patterson, are also investigating the efficacy of CBCT among suicide-attempters at a local hospital in Atlanta and among trauma survivors in Kosovo, and have also begun to explore its application in early-onset Alzheimer’s patients.

For more information on our CBCT research or training programs, please contact cbct@emory.edu.





Emory-Tibet Science Initiative department of religion CIPA MESAS Emory College Emory University Drepung Loseling Monastery