Positive emotions such as compassion and loving-kindness can be trained with special meditation techniques, a study of 16 Tibetan monks by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison found.
Published recently in the journal PLoS One, brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to scan the brains of the monks who all had at least 10,000 hours of meditation practise.
The scans revealed that the limbic system of the brain responsible for emotions such as compassion showed significantly more activity among the Buddhist monks with many years of meditation practise.
The monks were compared with a second group of 32 people, who two weeks earlier had been instructed for the first time in meditation techniques.
In the instruction session, the novices were asked to think about someone they cared for such as their parents, siblings or a beloved person and to let the "mind be invaded by a feeling of altruistic love".
In the resting or non-meditative state, the subjects were asked to remain relaxed with neither pleasant nor unpleasant feelings.
The scans revealed significant activity in the brain's limbic system that supports functions such as emotions and behaviour. The brain activity was, however, stronger among the meditating monks than in the control group, the researchers revealed.
"Loving kindness and compassion are central to the philosophy of the Dalai Lama," study leader Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health said, in elaborating the findings.