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* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.


Are Toddlers Capable of Empathy?

"Do 18-Month-Olds Really Attribute Mental States to Others?: A Critical Test"

Senju, A. et al. Psychological Science, Vol. 22 (7), July 2011, 878-880.

Are 18-month-olds able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes? A recent study suggests that they can, to some extent. Thirty-six 18-month-olds were blindfolded, but in some cases, they could actually see through the blindfold. After the blindfold was removed, they watched an actor look for an object behind one of two curtained windows. After four attempts, the actor put on a blindfold that looked the same as the one the infant had used, and the object was moved to the other window. The researchers wanted to know where the infants would fix their gaze as they observed the actor.

The young participants who had worn the real blindfold looked at the window where the object had been before, assuming that’s where the blindfolded actor would look because he didn’t know the object had been moved. Infants who had worn the see-through blindfold, on the other hand, immediately followed the object to the correct window; they seemed to think the actor would know to look there, based on the infants’ experience with the transparent blindfold. The researchers argue that even infants are able to place their own experiences into the belief systems of other people, a building block of empathy. —Bernie Wong

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Meditation Makes Brains Quicker

"Enhanced Brain Connectivity in Long-Term Meditation Practitioners"

Luders, E., Clark, K., Narr, K., Toga, A. NeuroImage, Vol. 54 (4), August 2011, 1308-1316.

This study adds to the evidence that meditation can produce real, physical benefits in brain function. People between the ages of 25 and 71, with five to 46 years of experience in various styles of meditation, were matched with non-meditators of a similar age and educational level. All participants were given a brain scan measuring the physical structure and organization of their brain connections. Those with a meditation background—regardless of the length of experience—displayed more numerous and denser brain fibers that appeared to give them quicker and more efficient brain function. The researchers suggest that meditation can not only improve brain function but can also potentially benefit attention and intelligence as well. —Bernie Wong

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