Many people think of massage therapists as, in general, compassionate—even more compassionate than the general population. New research shows compassion is a quality that can be learned and developed.

Researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin–Madison investigated whether training adults in compassion “can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion,” according to a university press release.

Study participants either practiced a compassion meditation or listened to cognitive-reappraisal audiotapes. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

“We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.

Both compassion and cognitive-reappraisal trainings are available on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds’ website at http://investigatinghealthyminds.org/compassion.html. “I think we are only scratching the surface of how compassion can transform people’s lives,” said lead author Helen Weng.

The research results were published in Psychological Science, published by SAGE Journals.

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