Mirror neurons – embodied cognition

Mirror neurons may have significant implications for meditators and spiritual practitioners.

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Macaque monkeys were used for the first mirror neuron experiments

Authors: Di Pellegrino, G., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G.

Year: 1992

Title: Understanding motor events: a neurophysiological study

Summary: Research emitting from the University of Parma in the 1990s changed cognitive science forever. This was the place where the mirror neuron was identified. At first sight it might not appear to have a direct relevance with meditation, but mirror neurons demonstrate a characteristic of the human brain central to understanding how we interconnect with each other. Under certain conditions we are directly affected by what we see other people do. This phenomenon is not restricted to humans.

If we see others undertaking a behavior that reflects something we have done, it will fire our mirror neurons as if we were doing it. This effect is not linked to species it is about how closely observable behaviors correspond  our own motor repertoire.

Stephen Gene Morris

In the original experiment a macaque monkey demonstrated mirror neuron activity when a human experimenter undertook tasks that it had been trained to do. The implications for meditators include:

  • Firstly it is a weakening to self-other duality, humans and animals can, under relatively common conditions share action potentials in mirror neurons.
  • Secondly there is a clear relationship between what we see and how this affects our brain.  It seems plausible that if we see kind acts that we ourselves have done in the past our mirror neurons will fire as if we were administering the kindness. The same would apply for unkind acts.

I have written a paper on this experiment which can be made available on request. The original literature (linked below) is very readable but it is the first in a series of the Parma Mirror Neuron Experiments.

Perspective: Embodied cognition, neuroscience, mirror neurons

Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00230027

Putting the Meditator at the Centre of the Research

Meditators know the most about meditation, if science ignores them they miss a trick.

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(The research is now complete, thanks to all who participated)

Do you meditate or practice mindfulness?

I am currently undertaking an academic survey into meditation and wellbeing. I would like to ask meditators over the age of 18 to complete a short anonymous questionnaire about their practice (it should take around ten minutes). The research has been ethically approved and conforms to all the usual academic norms.

This important research seeks to capture the meditation and mindfulness experience of practitioners of different levels of experience and backgrounds. Based on meditators self reported insights, this projects follows recent signposts in contemplative science putting greater emphasis on the experiential nature of mindfulness and meditation.

Regards

SGM

Conceptual and Methodological Challenges in Mindfulness and Meditation Research

How to think about the research of contemplative science

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Title: Conceptual and methodological issues in research on mindfulness and meditation.

Authors: Davidson, Richard J.; Kaszniak, Alfred W.

Year: 2015

Summary: Notwithstanding over 45 years of research into meditation there are growing concerns about conceptual and methodological challenges in this field. There are both similar and different issues facing meditation and mindfulness but three particular questions this paper discusses are:

  • How can the first person experience be understood and studied in contemplative science?
  • Is there a reliable and consistent understanding of terms within meditation and mindfulness research?
  • What tools can be used to overcome conceptual and methodological challenges to gathering and interpreting data?

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, social psychology

Link: http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0039512

Problems in the Definition of Mindfulness

What does mindfulness mean, how is the term used and how closely does it relate to the practice?

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Title: Is mindfulness present-centred and non-judgmental? A discussion of the cognitive dimensions of mindfulness

Author: Georges Dreyfus

Year: 2011

Summary: Among the issues that are publicly manifesting in the research of ‘mindfulness’ are fundamental problems achieving reliable and consistent understandings of the term itself. Definitions of mindfulness are becoming an increasingly thorny issue both as a cognitive process as well as a soteriological path. Some accounts of mindfulness express the concept as ‘present-centered non-judgmental awareness’, a view that that is challenged in this critique by Georges Dreyfus. Dreyfus argues that the essence of mindfulness is connected to the phenomenon of ‘sustained attention’ and can, to some extent engage evaluative processes. Whilst acknowledging merit in the modern definitions of mindfulness, this essay highlights significant discrepancies with traditional Buddhist accounts and more general uncertainty regarding the wider theoretical understanding.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, contemporary Buddhism, religious studies

Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14639947.2011.564815?src=recsys

 

Challenges in Researching Mindfulness

Problems in the scientific research of meditation and mindfulness.

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Authors: Richard J. Davidson, Alfred W. Kaszniak

Year: 2015

Title: Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Research on Mindfulness and Meditation

Summary: As western psychological investigation into meditation and mindfulness increases, concerns are being raised about how to understand and integrate the wide ranging findings that are being published. Mindfulness is a very general term for one meditative approach which can include a number of distinct psychological phenomena. This paper discusses the conceptual and methodological difficulties in researching this area. Addressing the challenges of creating and subsequently evaluating findings, which by their very nature may only be fully appreciated in the first person.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, neuroscience

Link: http://centerhealthyminds.org/assets/files-publications/DavidsonConceptualAP.pdf