Mindfulness: it’s a health trend that has taken our nation by storm. Back in October, we wrote that in 1996, just three articles about mindfulness were published in scientific journals. In 2006, that number jumped up to 47. Ten years after that, there were 667. The research suggests that mindfulness can make you happier, help curb smartphone addictions, and generally help people work and live better. According to a new study, the practice may even help you become a nicer person.
The research, authored by Daniel Berry, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University San Marcos, found that mindfulness training encouraged people to show more empathy to a victimized stranger in an online scenario. It’s common to feel distressed for someone who’s being badly treated, but as Berry explains, “that distress doesn’t always translate into empathy.”
In a series of four experiments, a group of 100-150 people was split into two. The first half was led through an audio-recorded guided meditation and the other half wasn’t. After the split, people engaged in an online version of a favorite American pastime — catch and toss. At one point within each round, one person was excluded (perhaps igniting some childhood memories of ostracization?). Here the researchers were looking to glean some insight on empathetic behavior. Would the players who were guided through the audio meditation show more kindness to a stranger?
The result? Researchers observed marked increases in empathetic behaviors among the participants who had the training. While this research pertains directly to online scenarios, Berry says past-research has shown the same for in-person interactions. While it’s unclear why the practice is so powerful, Berry says “training in mindfulness can break us from this automatic way of thinking about others and widen our circles for whom we show kindness.”
Read more about the study here.