Helen Weng, PhD
- Core Research Faculty, UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine
- Affiliate Faculty, Neuroscape Center, UCSF Sandler Neurosciences Center
- Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Areas of Interest
- Investigating neurobiological mechanisms through which compassion- and mindfulness-meditation training may improve social behavior and mental health
- Developing new neuroimaging tasks to measure meditation skills
- Increasing cultural diversity of meditators in contemplative neuroscience
Experience and Current Work
Dr. Helen Weng is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist who originally joined the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in 2014 as a postdoctoral scholar in the Training in Research in Integrative Medicine (TRIM) fellowship. In her work at the Osher Centerand as an affiliate faculty member of the Neuroscape Center, she is developing new ways to quantify meditation skills using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and machine learning to identify mental states of body awareness during meditation. She values integrating multicultural and social justice frameworks into her work and communication.
She is also partnering with the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California, using community engagement to increase diversity of meditators within neuroscience studies, including racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ population, and people with disabilities. This innovative work led to an invitation to present her work to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Buddhism and Science conference in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (video below). She has been a Mind and Life Institute Fellow since 2012, and has been named one of 10 Powerful Women in the Mindfulness Movement by her peers at mindful.org.
Dr. Weng’s early research, conducted at the Center for Healthy Minds and Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, demonstrated that compassion meditation increased both altruistic behavior towards others and the brain’s response to human suffering. This work was some of the first to suggest that compassion is a skill that may be enhanced through training, which results in both behavioral and neuroplasticity changes. Her research has been featured in such media outlets as the New York Times, the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fast Company. Dr. Weng’s clinical interests include integrating compassion and mindfulness meditation with psychotherapy to treat mood and anxiety disorders, particularly for LGBTQ clients.
This Is Your Brain on Meditation: How Meditation Impacts the Brain and Implications for Health
“Buddhism and Science” presentation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (Dr. Weng’s presentation starts at 1:08:00)
Education and Training
- PhD, Clinical Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Internship, Clinical Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychiatric Institute
- BA, Neuroscience and Behavior, Columbia University
- Sept. 23, 2019 (Bethesda, MD) - National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health 20th Anniversary Research Symposium
- “The EMBODY Task: Measuring interoception during mindfulness meditation using individualized brain patterns”
- Register for online or in person attendance here
- April 22-June 2, 2019 - Sounds True Online Brain Change
- June 6, 2019 (Marin County, CA) - TedxMarin The Brain and Consciousness
- Dr. Weng will be telling the story of how she went from studying meditation by averaging brains together in a group to studying each one individually, inspired by diverse people and their experiences.