Brief Mindfulness Training Improves the Willingness to Help Others.
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” – Mother Teresa
Homo Sapiens is a very successful species. In part its success has been due to it being a very social species. Members of the species form groups beyond the family unit and work together for the common good. Members also take care of one another. We routinely give to charities which benefit people on the other side of the world. We donate our time as volunteers to build houses for the disadvantaged. We roll down our car windows and hand money to a homeless person on a street corner. Mindfulness has been shown to increase altruistic behavior. But it is unclear how much training is sufficient to increase the likelihood of helping others.
In today’s Research News article “Short Mindfulness Meditation Increases Help-Giving Intention Towards a Stranger in Distress.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9386648/ ) Malin and Gumpel recruited undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to receive 2 30-minute sessions of mindfulness training, lectures on empathy and compassion, or listening to classical music. Before and after training they were measured for mindfulness, empathy, and emotional responses to a stranger in distress. After training they listened to an interview with a student struggling with a chronic illness. Afterwards they were asked if they’d be willing to volunteer to help students with chronic illnesses.
They found that after the mindfulness training there were significant increases in mindfulness and willingness to volunteer to help in comparison to the lecture and music groups. These results suggest that a brief mindfulness training is sufficient to increasing helping behavior. Mindfulness appears to increase altruism even with a brief training.
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Malin Y, Gumpel TP. Short Mindfulness Meditation Increases Help-Giving Intention Towards a Stranger in Distress. Mindfulness (N Y). 2022;13(9):2337-2346. doi: 10.1007/s12671-022-01963-y. Epub 2022 Aug 18. PMID: 35996549; PMCID: PMC9386648.
Mindfulness practice increases personal well-being, yet its effect on prosocial behaviors is not well-established. Initial studies suggest that an 8-week mindfulness program has a positive effect on help-giving towards a stranger in distress and that a short meditation promotes care towards an ostracized member. This research aims at examining whether a short mindfulness intervention promotes help-giving intention towards a stranger in distress and to understand the role of empathy in this effect.
A total of 210 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to two sessions of mindfulness practice, music, or lecture control conditions. Participants then listened to a sham interview with a student dealing with a chronic illness and were surveyed on their willingness to volunteer in an organization helping such students. Baseline dispositional empathy and consequent empathic care scales were completed to determine their effect.
A significantly higher percentage of participants were willing to provide help in the mindfulness condition (50.8%), as compared to the music (31.2%) and the lecture (31%) conditions, χ2 (2, N = 189) = 9.51, p = .009. A significantly positive effect of dispositional empathy on empathic care was found in the mindfulness group (b = 1.40, SE = .31, p < .001), but not in the control groups.
This study showed that short mindfulness practice increases help-giving intention as compared to active control groups and moderates the association between dispositional empathy and empathic care. Future research including long-term follow-up will strengthen these findings.