Neuroscience of Kindness

Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons are brain cells that enable humans to mirror the emotions and actions of others - creating a neural basis for empathy. Empathy is a fundamental building block for all social connections and relationships.

Connectivity

Cultivating strong social connections buffer against the negative effects of stress, boost your immune system and decrease depression and anxiety. Similarly, in the brain, there are benefits to having strong connections between neurons. The more you practice kindness, the stronger those neural connections become - training your brain to be kinder, healthier, and happier.

Individual differences in resting-state connectivity and giving social support: implications for health

Kindness Training

Kindness is like a muscle - you can strengthen it with practice and training. In fact, there is no limit! When you push yourself to think flexibly, generate multiple solutions, and view people and their contexts from broader perspectives, you sharpen the cognitive skills that continuously refuel your ability to practice empathy and compassion. In fact, the more you give = the more you have to bestow.

Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity and compassion and empathy training

Parasympathetic Nervous System

Practicing compassion and kindness increases parasympathetic activity - a calm, relaxed brain state associated with better health outcomes. Additionally, compassion dampens sympathetic activity (“fight or flight”) reducing the experience of stress or fear.

Neurophysiological and behavioral markers of compassion

Reward System

Dopamine. Dopamine. Dopamine. When you are kind, you activate your brain’s positive ‘neuropharmacy’, the reward system (the nucleus accumbens to be exact), which produces the same positive feelings in your brain as when you enjoy your favorite dessert. Your brain learns kind behavior is rewarding - motivating you to do it again.

Kindness is contagious: exploring engagement in a gamified persuasive intervention for wellbeing