Speaker Series with Cliff Saron: Scientific Investigation of Contemplative Practice: What Can We Capture and What Does the World Make of it?



Speaker Series with Cliff Saron: Scientific Investigation of Contemplative Practice: What Can We Capture and What Does the World Make of it?


Mon., Nov 3 2014 - 12:00 PM


Tentative: Claude Moore Nursing School Room G120

This talk will summarize our ongoing investigation regarding the ways in which attentional, emotional and physiological processes are modified over the course of three months of intensive full-time training in meditative quiescence (Shamatha) and emotional balance (loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity) taught by Alan Wallace, in a longitudinal randomized wait-list controlled study known as “The Shamatha Project.” A large international collaborative team has employed scientific measures that include established paradigms in cognitive and affective neuroscience, stress and affiliation-related biomarkers, EEG, autonomic psychophysiology, facial expressions of emotion, self-report instruments, daily mood state and journaling, and thematic analysis of structured interviews. Our initial findings demonstrate improvements in adaptive psychological attributes, perceptual and attention-related skills, brain activation changes during meditation and related to visual perception and attention, improvements in inhibiting habitual responses, changes in the emotional response to the perception of human suffering, and changes in biomarkers associated with stress and cellular repair. These findings demonstrate wide-ranging effects of the retreat experience. The presentation will be framed within a discussion of the complex methodological issues confronting research in contemplative practice, the current widespread attention research in this area is receiving in the popular press that may be engendering misconceptions of both contemplative practice and the nascent science, the need for an interdisciplinary perspective, and integration of 1st-, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives.
Clifford D. Saron, an Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis, received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1999. Dr. Saron has had a long-standing interest in the effects of contemplative practice. He has coordinated field research investigating Tibetan Buddhist mind training under the auspices of H. H. the Dalai Lama, served on the Mind and Life Institute’s (MLI) Program and Research Council, and been frequent faculty at the MLI Summer Institute. Dr. Saron is Principal Investigator of the Shamatha Project, a multidisciplinary longitudinal investigation of the effects of long-term intensive meditation on physiological and psychological processes central to well-being, attention, emotion regulation and health. It was conceived with and taught by Alan Wallace, with the talents of a large consortium of researchers at UC Davis and elsewhere. In 2012, Dr. Saron and his colleagues were awarded the inaugural Templeton Prize Research Grant from the John Templeton Foundation to continue this work. Dr. Saron’s also studies sensory processing and multisensory integration in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In new research with colleagues at UCSF, Dr. Saron is exploring how mindfulness-based interventions can ease the chronic stress of mothers of children with ASD in ways that may be beneficial for the whole family system and contribute to a lessoning of difficulties for the affected children.
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