Mechanism of mindfulness and compassion

crutchesLim, D., Condon, P., & DeSteno, D. (2015). Mindfulness and Compassion: An Examination of Mechanism and Scalability. PLOS ONE. Published online February 17, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118221. Full text.

Abstract. Emerging evidence suggests that meditation engenders prosocial behaviors meant to benefit others. However, the robustness, underlying mechanisms, and potential scalability of such effects remain open to question. The current experiment employed an ecologically valid situation that exposed participants to a person in visible pain. [Comment: The final sample consisted of 56 individuals, 30 female, 26 male; mean age = 19.4 years.]

Following three-week, mobile-app based training courses in mindfulness meditation or cognitive skills (i.e., an active control condition), participants arrived at a lab individually to complete purported measures of cognitive ability. Upon entering a public waiting area outside the lab that contained three chairs, participants seated themselves in the last remaining unoccupied chair; confederates occupied the other two. As the participant sat and waited, a third confederate using crutches and a large walking boot entered the waiting area while displaying discomfort.

Compassionate responding was assessed by whether participants gave up their seat to allow the uncomfortable confederate to sit, thereby relieving her pain. Participants’ levels of empathic accuracy was also assessed. As predicted, participants assigned to the mindfulness meditation condition gave up their seats more frequently than did those assigned to the active control group. In addition, empathic accuracy was not increased by mindfulness practice, suggesting that mindfulness-enhanced compassionate behavior does not stem from associated increases in the ability to decode the emotional experiences of others.

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