When the body fosters empathy: The interconnectivity between bodily reactivity, meditation, and embodied abstract concepts

Fabio Marson, Revital Naor-Ziv, Patrizio Paoletti, Joseph Glicksohn, Tadhg Harris, Mark A. Elliott, Filippo Carducci, Tal Dotan Ben-Soussan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

Empathy is a fundamental social ability that allows humans to infer others' emotions and intentions. Empathy is thought to be rooted in bodily sensations coming from the autonomic nervous system. In parallel, the functionality and perceptions coming from the autonomic nervous system could be improved by practicing activities that involve mind-body interactions, such as meditation. Furthermore, perceptions from the autonomic nervous system are thought to be important in the embodiment of abstract concepts. Consequently, in the current study, we collected data online from 581 participants and explored the associations between levels of empathy and (1) the practice of meditation, music, and sports; (2) the impact of self-report measures on bodily awareness and reactivity; and (3) the embodiment of abstract concepts in interoception. In line with previous studies, Meditators were found to have higher empathy scores than Non-Meditators. In addition, lower levels of autonomic reactivity in organs above the diaphragm were associated with higher empathy. Finally, we also observed that empathy was positively associated with interoceptive components of abstract concepts in those participants with high autonomic reactivity. Taken together, the results suggest that meditation practice and having low autonomic reactivity are associated with empathy, arguably through the downregulation of autonomic responses. Implications for mind-body interaction in meditation and its role in promoting empathy are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

  • Abstract concepts
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Autonomic reactivity
  • Embodied empathy
  • Embodiment
  • Empathy
  • Interoception
  • Meditation

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