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Contemplative Practices and Mental Training: Prospects for American Education


  • The activities of the Mind and Life Education Research Network and the writing of this manuscript were supported by a grant from the John W. Kluge Foundation and from the Mind & Life Institute.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Richard J. Davidson, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705; e-mail:


This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.