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Helen Weng, PhD

Title(s)Assistant Professor, Psychiatry
SchoolSchool of Medicine
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    Other Positions
    Title(s)UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences

    Collapse Biography 
    Collapse Education and Training
    Columbia University, New York, NYB.A.05/2004Neuroscience & Behavior
    University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WIPh.D.06/2014Clinical Psychology
    University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CAPostdoctoral Fellowship12/2016Integrative Medicine
    University of California, San Francisco, CA2018Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Champion Training
    Collapse Awards and Honors
    Mind and Life Institute2020  - 2022Prosociality, Empathy, Altruism, Compassion, and Ethics (PEACE) Grant
    Mind and Life Institute2019Service Award
    Mindful Magazine201910 Powerful Women of the Mindfulness Movement
    NIH/NCCIH2017  - 2022K08 Clinical Scientist Career Development Award
    Mind and Life Institute2015Summer Research Institute Fellow. Past years: 2006-2010, 2013
    Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, University of California, San Francisco2014  - 2016NIH/NCCIH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Training in Research in Integrative Medicine
    Department of Family Medicine, UW-Madison2012  - 2013NIH/NCCAM T32 Predoctoral Training Fellowship
    Department of Psychology, UW-Madison2012Marian Schwartz research award
    Cognitive Neuroscience Society2012Graduate Student Award and Travel Award
    Mind and Life Institute2015Francisco J. Varela Memorial Award
    Department of Psychology, UW-Madison2011Ramona Messerschmidt Award
    Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, UW-Madison2008Fetzer Institute fellowship, Initiative on the Neuroscience of Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness
    University of Zurich, Switzerland2008Travel Award, International Symposium "Foundations of Human Social Behavior"
    Department of Psychology, UW-Madison2007Hertz Foundation research award
    Mind and Life Institute2006Francisco J. Varela Memorial Award
    Department of Psychology, UW-Madison2005  - 2007NIH/NIMH T32 Predoctoral Training Fellowship in Emotion Research
    Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University2005Functional MRI Visiting Fellowship
    Columbia University2003Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship
    Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY2000  - 2004Brookhaven Science Associates Award

    Collapse Overview 
    Collapse Overview
    Helen Weng, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF and a core member of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. She is also an affiliate faculty member of the Neuroscape Center at the Sandler Neurosciences Center.

    Dr. Weng is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist, and is interested in the neurobiological mechanisms through which meditation training may improve social behavior and mental health. 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 is also using community-engaged approaches to increase the diversity of meditators studied within contemplative neuroscience, in partnership with the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA. 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.

    Helen received a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Conducted at the Center for Healthy Minds and Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, her research demonstrated that compassion meditation increased both altruistic behavior towards others and how the brain responds 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. Her research has been featured in media outlets such as the New York Times, the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fast Company.

    Dr. Weng completed a clinical psychology internship at the UW-Madison Psychiatric Institute and clinics, where she specialized in integrating compassion and mindfulness meditation with psychotherapy to treat mood and anxiety disorders. Her clinical interests include adapting mind-body interventions for LGBTQ people. She values integrating multicultural and social justice frameworks to her work and communication.

    Guided compassion meditation from Dr. Weng’s research:

    Collapse Research 
    Collapse Research Activities and Funding
    Measuring mental states during lovingkindness meditation using individualized brain patterns: A community-engaged investigation
    Mind and Life Institute Feb 1, 2020 - Jan 31, 2022
    Role: Principal Investigator
    Optimizing measurement of mindfulness meditation using brain pattern classification
    NIH/NCCIH K08AT009385Feb 1, 2017 - Jan 31, 2022
    Role: Principal Investigator
    A community-engaged approach to contemplative neuroscience in a diverse contemplative community
    Mind and Life Institute, Francisco J. Varela Award Feb 18, 2016 - Feb 17, 2018
    Role: Principal Investigator
    The EMBODY Project: Using pattern classification to decode the mental contents of meditation
    Rajen C. Jaswa Fund for Meditation Research, UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Oct 1, 2015 - Dec 31, 2017
    Role: Principal Investigator
    Identifying neural patterns of body awareness with the Brain Body Awareness Metric: A novel brain-based method of measuring mindfulness of body sensations
    UCSF Mt. Zion Health Fund Pilot in Integrative Medicine Research P0509581Jul 1, 2015 - Dec 31, 2017
    Role: Principal Investigator

    Collapse ORNG Applications 
    Collapse Featured Publications
    Collapse Websites
    Collapse In The News
    Collapse Featured Videos

    Collapse Bibliographic 
    Collapse Publications
    Publications listed below are automatically derived from MEDLINE/PubMed and other sources, which might result in incorrect or missing publications. Researchers can login to make corrections and additions, or contact us for help.
    List All   |   Timeline
    1. Goldberg SB, Hirshberg M, Tello LY, Weng HY, Flook L, Davidson RJ. Still facial photographs of long-term meditators are perceived by naïve observers as less neurotic, more conscientious and more mindful than non-meditating controls. PLoS One. 2019; 14(8):e0221782. PMID: 31461478.
      View in: PubMed
    2. Weng, H.Y., Lewis-Peacock, J.A., Hecht, F.M., Uncapher, M., Ziegler, D.A., Farb, N.A.S., Goldman, V., Skinner, S., Duncan, L.G., Chao, M.T., Gazzaley, A.Focus on the breath: Brain decoding reveals internal states of attention during meditation. bioRxiv. 2018; doi: 10.1101/461590.
    3. LeWinn KZ, Strigo IA, Connolly CG, Ho TC, Tymofiyeva O, Sacchet MD, Weng HY, Blom EH, Simmons AN, Yang TT. An exploratory examination of reappraisal success in depressed adolescents: Preliminary evidence of functional differences in cognitive control brain regions. J Affect Disord. 2018 11; 240:155-164. PMID: 30071419.
      View in: PubMed
    4. Hecht FM, Moskowitz JT, Moran P, Epel ES, Bacchetti P, Acree M, Kemeny ME, Mendes WB, Duncan LG, Weng H, Levy JA, Deeks SG, Folkman S. A randomized, controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction in HIV infection. Brain Behav Immun. 2018 10; 73:331-339. PMID: 29842903.
      View in: PubMed
    5. Weng HY, Lapate RC, Stodola DE, Rogers GM, Davidson RJ. Visual Attention to Suffering After Compassion Training Is Associated With Decreased Amygdala Responses. Front Psychol. 2018; 9:771. PMID: 29872413.
      View in: PubMed
    6. Weng, H.Y., Schuyler, B.S., Davidson, R.J. (2017).The impact of compassion training on the brain and prosocial behavior. In E. Seppala, E. Simon-Thomas, S. L. Brown, M. C. Worline, D. Cameron & J. Doty (Eds). Handbook of Compassion Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2017; 133-146.
    7. Rosenkranz MA, Esnault S, Christian BT, Crisafi G, Gresham LK, Higgins AT, Moore MN, Moore SM, Weng HY, Salk RH, Busse WW, Davidson RJ. Corrigendum to "Mind-body interactions in the regulation of airway inflammation in asthma: A PET study of acute and chronic stress" [Brain Behav. Immun. 58 (2016) 18-30]. Brain Behav Immun. 2018 01; 67:398-401. PMID: 28835333.
      View in: PubMed
    8. Henje Blom E, Tymofiyeva O, Chesney MA, Ho TC, Moran P, Connolly CG, Duncan LG, Baldini L, Weng HY, Acree M, Goldman V, Hecht FM, Yang TT. Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy of a Novel RDoC-Based Treatment Program for Adolescent Depression: "Training for Awareness Resilience and Action" (TARA)-A Pilot Study. Front Psychiatry. 2016; 7:208. PMID: 28138319.
      View in: PubMed
    9. Rosenkranz MA, Esnault S, Christian BT, Crisafi G, Gresham LK, Higgins AT, Moore MN, Moore SM, Weng HY, Salk RH, Busse WW, Davidson RJ. Mind-body interactions in the regulation of airway inflammation in asthma: A PET study of acute and chronic stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Nov; 58:18-30. PMID: 27039241.
      View in: PubMed
    10. Ho TC, Zhang S, Sacchet MD, Weng H, Connolly CG, Henje Blom E, Han LK, Mobayed NO, Yang TT. Fusiform Gyrus Dysfunction is Associated with Perceptual Processing Efficiency to Emotional Faces in Adolescent Depression: A Model-Based Approach. Front Psychol. 2016; 7:40. PMID: 26869950.
      View in: PubMed
    11. Henje Blom E, Ho TC, Connolly CG, LeWinn KZ, Sacchet MD, Tymofiyeva O, Weng HY, Yang TT. The neuroscience and context of adolescent depression. Acta Paediatr. 2016 Apr; 105(4):358-65. PMID: 26663379.
      View in: PubMed
    12. Weng HY, Fox AS, Hessenthaler HC, Stodola DE, Davidson RJ. The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior. PLoS One. 2015; 10(12):e0143794. PMID: 26655837.
      View in: PubMed
    13. Weng HY, Fox AS, Shackman AJ, Stodola DE, Caldwell JZ, Olson MC, Rogers GM, Davidson RJ. Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychol Sci. 2013 Jul 01; 24(7):1171-80. PMID: 23696200.
      View in: PubMed
    14. Schuyler BS, Kral TR, Jacquart J, Burghy CA, Weng HY, Perlman DM, Bachhuber DR, Rosenkranz MA, Maccoon DG, van Reekum CM, Lutz A, Davidson RJ. Temporal dynamics of emotional responding: amygdala recovery predicts emotional traits. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Feb; 9(2):176-81. PMID: 23160815.
      View in: PubMed
    15. MacCoon DG, Imel ZE, Rosenkranz MA, Sheftel JG, Weng HY, Sullivan JC, Bonus KA, Stoney CM, Salomons TV, Davidson RJ, Lutz A. The validation of an active control intervention for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Behav Res Ther. 2012 Jan; 50(1):3-12. PMID: 22137364.
      View in: PubMed