Become More Sensitive to Others with Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“as we pay attention to our breath, our body, our lives, in this simple and gentle way, a natural consequence is the opening of the heart.” – Matthew Brensilver
Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. This deep need for positive social interactions heightens the pain of social rejection.
Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial behaviors such as altruism, compassion and empathy and reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. In today’s Research News article “Exploring the Role of Meditation and Dispositional Mindfulness on Social Cognition Domains: A Controlled Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00809/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_963174_69_Psycho_20190416_arts_A), Campos and colleagues examine the relationship of mindfulness to social cognition, “the mental operations that underlie social interactions, including perceiving, interpreting, and generating responses to the intentions, dispositions, and behaviors of others”.
They recruited a group of healthy adult meditation practitioners and a group of non-meditators and had them complete measures of mindfulness, empathy, emotion recognition, theory of mind, attribution style, depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. Comparing the two groups they found that the meditators had significantly higher levels of mindfulness, interpersonal reactivity (empathy), emotion recognition, and theory of mind and significantly lower levels of cognitive impairment and lower levels of attribution style, including hostility bias intentionality bias, blame, anger bias, and aggressivity bias. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness, particularly the non-reactivity facet of mindfulness, the higher the levels of empathy.
This study is cross-sectional and has to be interpreted with caution. The results, however suggest that meditators have higher levels of social cognition. That is, that meditators are much more sensitive to others. This, in turn, improves their ability to understand and interact with others. They also suggest that meditators have a better ability to be non-reactive to what is transpiring in the present moment. This would make them better at responding empathetically to others. Hence, the study suggests that meditation practice may improve the individual’s sensitivity to others.
So, become more sensitive to others with meditation.
“Learning to communicate with empathy can go a long way toward building more positivity in your relationships and reducing your stress. If we all focused more on listening and understanding each other, the world would be a lot less stressful—and a lot happier—place to live.” – Arthur Ciamamicoli
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Campos D, Modrego-Alarcón M, López-del-Hoyo Y, González-Panzano M, Van Gordon W, Shonin E, Navarro-Gil M and García-Campayo J (2019) Exploring the Role of Meditation and Dispositional Mindfulness on Social Cognition Domains: A Controlled Study. Front. Psychol. 10:809. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00809
Research suggests that mindfulness can induce changes in the social domain, such as enhancing emotional connection to others, prosocial behavior, and empathy. However, despite growing interest in mindfulness in social psychology, very little is known about the effects of mindfulness on social cognition. Consequently, the aim of this study was to explore the relationship between mindfulness and social cognition by comparing meditators with non-meditators on several social cognition measures. A total of 60 participants (meditators, n = 30; non-meditators, n = 30) were matched on sex, age, and ethnic group, and then asked to complete the following assessment measures: Mindful Awareness Attention Scale (MAAS), Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire Short Form (FFMQ-SF), Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), Revised Eyes Test, Hinting Task, Ambiguous Intentions and Hostility Questionnaire (AIHQ), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), and Screening for Cognitive Impairment in Psychiatry (SCIP). The results showed that meditators reported higher empathy (except for the personal distress subscale), higher emotional recognition, higher theory of mind (ToM), and lower hostile attributional style/bias. The findings also demonstrated that dispositional mindfulness (both total score assessed with MAAS and mindfulness facets using the FFMQ) was associated with social cognition, although it was not equally correlated with all social cognition outcomes, and correlation patterns differ when analyses were conducted separately for meditators and non-meditators. In addition, results showed potential predictors for each social cognition variable, highlighting non-reactivity to inner experience as a key component of mindfulness in order to explain social cognition performance. In summary, the findings indicated that the meditator sample performed better on certain qualities (i.e., empathy, emotional recognition, ToM, hostile attributional style/bias) in comparison to non-meditators and, furthermore, support the notion that mindfulness is related to social cognition, which may have implications for the design of mindfulness-based approaches for use in clinical and non-clinical settings.