December 17, 2021
In this episode, Wendy speaks with neuroscientist and contemplative researcher Cliff Saron. Cliff is a pioneer in studying the effects of meditation on attention and emotion, and has been deeply embedded in the field of contemplative science since the earliest days. This conversation covers many topics, including:
- his winding path into contemplative research;
- drilling down and pulling back;
- conducting research with Tibetan monks in India;
- how brain signals can predict behavior, and implications for free will;
- the importance of context in meditation research;
- effects of intensive meditation on attention, markers of cellular aging, and purpose in life;
- community-engaged participatory research;
- communicating the nuance and uncertainty inherent in science;
- Ubuntu, and living into our interdependence.
Clifford Saron, PhD, is a Research Scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at the University of California–Davis. Cliff has had a long-standing interest in the effects of contemplative practice on physiology and behavior. In the early 1990s, he conducted field research investigating Tibetan Buddhist mind training under the auspices of the office of the Dalai Lama and has been associated with the Mind & Life Institute since 1990. A faculty member at Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes in the US and Europe and a former member of the Mind & Life Institute Steering Council, he received the inaugural Mind & Life Service Award in 2018. Cliff directs the Shamatha Project, a multidisciplinary longitudinal investigation of the effects of intensive meditation on physiological and psychological processes central to well-being. Currently, his research team is investigating how meditation experience may mitigate the effects of the pandemic on chronic stress and cellular aging, as well as examining consequences of compassion vs. mindfulness training on engagement with suffering. Cliff also studies sensory processing and integration in children with autism spectrum disorders to better understand how these children experience their everyday sensory environments.
Faculty page at University of California–Davis
Saron Lab website
- Paper: MacLean et al (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science
- Paper: Sahdra et al (2011). Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion
- Paper: Jacobs et al (2011). Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology
- Paper: Zanesco et al (2019). Modulation of Event-related Potentials of Visual Discrimination by Meditation Training and Sustained Attention. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
- Paper: Conklin et al (2018). Insight meditation and telomere biology: The effects of intensive retreat and the moderating role of personality. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
- Lecture – Minding Mindfulness: Issues, Models, and Findings in Scientific Study of Meditation (2016)
- Ubuntu Digital Dialogue – presentations and discussions from the 32nd Mind & Life Dialogue, Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science, and Humanity, held in Botswana (2017)
View or download a transcript of this episode
Podcast extra: Cliff describes more scientific findings on how meditation affects responses to others’ suffering.