In our inaugural blog post we described a study which found that doing kind acts can lead to better mood and more satisfying relationships for socially anxious people. Now we have come across a small study showing that meditation can lead to acts of kindness(1).
Researchers at Northeastern University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard University set out to investigate whether people who completed one of two eight-week meditation courses (mindfulness-based or compassion-based) would be more likely to show compassion toward other people compared to participants assigned to a wait-list control group.
They used a very interesting, real-life situation in their study: giving up a seat for someone in pain. When each participant arrived at the laboratory waiting area, he or she sat in the only unoccupied seat. Female confederates (paid by the researchers to play the role of other participants) occupied two other seats. One minute later, another female confederate appeared, with crutches and a walking boot, showing obvious signs of pain. The researchers were looking to see whether the real participant offered his or her seat to the woman in pain.
The results are quite compelling. Meditators were five times more likely than non meditators to give up their seats! Furthermore, those who completed the mindfulness-based meditation course were just as likely as those from the compassion-based course to give up their seats, even though the latter course targeted compassion more directly. Also noteworthy is that these findings occurred within a set-up conducive to the classic â€śbystander effectâ€ť â€“ a phenomenon wherein an individual is less likely to offer assistance in the presence of other people. Meditators appeared to be less susceptible to this effect than non meditators; despite witnessing two confederates ignore the woman in pain, 50% of meditators gave up their seats compared to 16% in the control group. The researchers speculated that meditation may increase compassionate behavior by increasing oneâ€™s ability to notice others in pain and/or by leading to changes in perspective taking.
What can we take away from the research presented in our first two blog posts? Well, we saw that meditation can lead to acts of kindness, and acts of kindness can lead to more satisfying relationships in the socially anxious. We also know from earlier research that mindfulness meditation can lead to more satisfying relationships(2). Perhaps one of the ways it does that is by facilitating kindness.
In our previous blog post we encouraged you to include more acts of kindness in your daily routine. In light of this recent study, perhaps that will be easier to do the more you meditate! If you are working through our book, that would mean setting aside more time to practice the mindfulness exercises (available to download at http://www.newharbinger.com/mindfulness-and-acceptance-workbook-social-anxiety-and-shyness, under Accessories). You may even want to find a meditation group in your area and surround yourself with meditators!
1. Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W., DeSteno, D. (In press). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science.
2. Bihari, J.L.N. and Mullan, E.G. (published online Sept. 1, 2012). Relating mindfully: A qualitative exploration of changes in relationships through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Mindfulness, DOI 10.1007/s12671-012-0146-x.
Please share any comments you have about this blog post. We look forward to hearing from you.
In the jewish religion, we call these acts of kindness "Mitzvahs". Much like the idea of Karma, acts of kindness come back to you in one form or another. It's somewhat of an undeniable truth and you only have to live long enough to see it in action. I've been meditating for a while now. It brings me closer with whatever reality we're living in (I know that sounds out there :). I can see how the two, Karma and Meditation, are linked. I've felt this for a while now and living this philosophy can really make you feel like you're making an impact on the world in a positive way. Thanks!