Mindfulness Decreases (Others’) Suffering

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, mindful awareness helps with all kinds of things. Being mindful simply means bringing our attention into the present and letting go of our tendency to judge everything as good or bad. This simple shift in awareness can have profound effects on our well-being, as countless individuals have discovered. (For a very accessible summary of the positive effects of mindfulness, see this blog post).

A study that came out last month showed that practicing meditation–a very common mindfulness practice–also makes a person more willing to help other people. Participants in the mindfulness condition received 8 weeks of meditation practice; those in the control condition were placed on a waiting list for the same length of time.

At the end of the 8 weeks each individual came into the research lab and sat in a waiting room that had 3 chairs. The other two chairs were taken by individuals who were actually part of the research team (“confederates”).

The key moment came when a third confederate entered the waiting room on crutches and wearing a walking boot. Neither of the seated confederates offered his or her chair to the person on crutches, who pretended to be in obvious discomfort. The question was whether the research participant would offer a chair to this person.

The results were striking. In the waiting list control group, only 3 of 19 individuals (16%) offered their chair to the person on crutches. In contrast, half of the individuals in the meditation group (10 of 20) gave up their chair so the person could sit down. In other words, meditation practice tripled the likelihood that a person would respond with compassion to someone in need.

Sometimes taking time to meditate can seem like a selfish act. However, this study confirms what many meditators have known intuitively, that increasing our mindful awareness is good not only for ourselves but for the people around us, including our friends, our families, and our communities.

Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (in press). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797613485603

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