Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“meditation made people feel moderately more compassionate or empathic, compared to if they had done no other new emotionally-engaging activity. But further analysis revealed that it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.” – James Anderson

 

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. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

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 “The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/ ), Kreplin and colleagues review, summarize and perform a meta-analysis of the published research literature on the effectiveness of meditation practice for the promotion of prosocial behaviors. They reviewed randomized controlled trials that examined meditation or mindfulness effects on “empathy, relationship, connectedness, compassion, love, interpersonal, anger, social, altruism, outgroup, thankfulness, forgiveness, prosocial.”

 

They found 16 published randomized controlled trials. The meta-analysis indicated that there were overall small but significant effects of meditation or mindfulness training on prosocial behavior, especially compassion and empathy. There were no significant effects on aggression or prejudice. These results suggest that meditation or mindfulness training has small but positive effects on prosocial but not antisocial behaviors.

 

Limiting the interpretation of the findings, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the trainer for meditation or mindfulness was a listed author on the study. This raises the possibility that experimenter bias may have had a major influence such that the beliefs of the researcher that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. In addition, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the control, comparison, condition was passive, such as a wait-list or no-treatment control, with no significant effects when an active, alternative treatment, control condition was included. This raises the possibility that participant expectancies may have had major influences such that the beliefs of the participants that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. Hence, the small positive results on prosocial behaviors may have been due to weaknesses in the research designs of the studies rather than to the effects of meditation and mindfulness training.

 

These results are important in that they point to issues with the research design that may have been responsible for significant effects. This calls into question the actual effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness training on prosocial behavior. Obviously, more tightly controlled research is necessary to determine if meditation and mindfulness training can be used to improve positive social behaviors.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kreplin, U., Farias, M., & Brazil, I. A. (2018). The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 8, 2403. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z

 

Abstract

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/

 

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in.“ – Patricia Rockman

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In “Presence” meditation, also known as focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. “Perspective” meditation is another different method of cultivating mindfulness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention. A third “Affect” meditation technique, e.g. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/ ), the effects of the various meditation techniques on mindfulness and compassion were compared. Hildebrandt and colleagues recruited healthy adults without meditation experience and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions; the first practiced “Presence”, “Affect”, and “Perspective” conditions in counterbalanced order, while the second constituted a retest control. The conditions were practiced daily at home for 13 weeks and involved a weekly 2-hour training session. In the “Presence” condition the participants practiced as focused attention meditation and body scan meditation In the “Affect” condition the participants practiced Loving Kindness Meditation and engaged in affect dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day something that they were grateful for, In the “Perspective” condition the participants practiced observing thoughts meditation and engaged in perspective dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day “a situation from the perspective of one of one’s own inner parts.”  The retest control participants were matched on mindfulness with the practice participants. All participants were measured before and after each condition for mindfulness, compassion, fear of compassion, and self-compassion.

 

They found that, compared to the retest control condition all three meditation conditions led to increased mindfulness presence, observing, and non-reacting, but only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions produced significant increases in the mindfulness non-judging, accepting, and compassion scales. The “Affect” condition produced additional significant increases in the compassion scales. Hence, different mindfulness practices produced different patterns of change in mindfulness and compassion.

 

Practicing focused meditation appears to improve present moment awareness and the ability to not react to its contents. Practicing observing thoughts appeared to not only improve these mindfulness components but also improved the ability to accept and not judge what is occurring. On the other hand, practicing Loving Kindness Meditation appears to improve all of these mindfulness components and in addition improve compassion. Hence, it appears that “Affect” meditation may be a superior technique for promoting both mindfulness and compassion.

 

These results are surprising as focused attention meditation has long been the most commonly taught practice, yet it was the least effective. It should be mentioned, however, that the present study was unusual in including dyadic discussions in only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions and not the “Presence” condition. These dyadic discussions may have been crucial in producing the enhanced effectiveness’ of these practices. It remains for future research to investigate this possibility.

 

This study is an important beginning in documenting the different effects of different meditation techniques. This may lead to better application of meditation tailored for the specific needs of the individual, leading to improved health and well-being.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Hildebrandt, L. K., McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2017). Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1488–1512. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0716-z

 

Abstract

Research on the effects of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions is flourishing along with self-report scales to assess facets of these broad concepts. However, debates remain as to which mental practices are most appropriate to develop the attentional, cognitive, and socio-affective facets of mindfulness and compassion. One crucial question is whether present-moment, attention-focused mindfulness practices are sufficient to induce a cascade of changes across the different proposed facets of mindfulness, including nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as compassion or whether explicit socio-affective training is required. Here, we address these questions in the context of a 9-month longitudinal study (the ReSource Project) by examining the differential effects of three different 3-month mental training modules on subscales of mindfulness and compassion questionnaires. The “Presence” module, which aimed at cultivating present-moment-focused attention and body awareness, led to increases in the observing, nonreacting, and presence subscales, but not to increases in acceptance or nonjudging. These latter facets benefitted from specific cultivation through the socio-cognitive “Perspective” module and socio-affective, compassion-based “Affect” module, respectively. These modules also led to further increases in scores on the subscales affected by the Presence module. Moreover, scores on the compassion scales were uniquely influenced by the Affect module. Thus, whereas a present-moment attention-focused training, as implemented in many mindfulness-based programs, was indeed able to increase attentional facets of mindfulness, only socio-cognitive and compassion-based practices led to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.” – Emma Seppala

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions. One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention. In today’s Research News article “Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below). Weibel and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to a wait-list control condition or to practice Loving Kindness Meditation at 4 weekly, 90 minute sessions and were encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before and after the 4-week training period and 8 weeks later for anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion.

 

They found that following treatment, in comparison to the wait-list control participants, the Loving Kindness Meditation participants demonstrated significant increases in compassionate love, and self-compassion, including the self-kindness and common humanity subscales. At the 8-week follow-up, only the self-kindness subscale remained significant. Hence, the practice of Loving Kindness Meditation was found to enhance compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

These are disappointing results. Loving Kindness Meditation is a practice of directing compassion and kindness toward the self and others. So, these results only show that practicing compassion and kindness produces compassion and kindness. The failure to show any effects on anxiety suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation may not have effects beyond what it is designed to target.

 

There are a number of studies that show significant effects for Loving Kindness Meditation on a wide variety of physical and psychological issues. So, it would appear likely that the lack of effectiveness seen in the current study was due to the particular characteristics of this study. Perhaps, the brief, 4-week, duration of the practice was insufficient. Perhaps, other psychological characteristics than anxiety needed to be measured. Perhaps college students are not an appropriate group for Loving Kindness Meditation. Perhaps, placebo effects accounted for the differences in compassion and kindness. Regardless, it is clear that the current study does not demonstrate significant effects of Loving Kindness Meditation beyond what it practices; compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

“More than just a feel-good practice, compassion meditation leads to improved mood, more altruistic behavior, less anger, reduced stress and decreased maladaptive mind wandering, according to recent research.” – Stacey Colino

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Weibel, D.T., McClintock, A.S. & Anderson, T. Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 565. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0630-9

 

Abstract

Although loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has shown some promise as a psychological intervention, little is known about the effectiveness of LKM for reducing one of the most prevalent mental health problems: anxiety. To build knowledge in this area, we conducted a randomized controlled trial, assigning non-clinical undergraduates to either a four-session, group-based LKM intervention (n = 38) or a waitlist control (n = 33). Self-reported anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion were assessed at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 8-week follow-up. Relative to control participants, participants in the LKM intervention reported higher compassionate love and self-compassion at posttreatment and higher self-kindness (a component of self-compassion) at follow-up. Anxiety ratings did not significantly differ between conditions at posttreatment or follow-up. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Improve Seeing Others as Like the Self with Loving Kindness Meditation

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. . . . this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. . . . it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.”” – Christine Carter

 

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. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of the factors that lead to and improve empathy and compassion. One method that appears to be able to increase these capacities is Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It has been shown to amplify positive emotions, altruism, and compassion. This suggests that LKM may reduce the perceived difference between the self and other people. This is difficult to study, however, as these capacities are not easily measured and require length, indirect, paper and pencil, tests for assessment.

 

An alternative assessment technique is to measure the electrical response of the brain (electroencephalogram, EEG) as an indicator of empathy and compassion. This can be done by investigating differences in the brains processing of stimuli related to the self, relative to those related to other people. Upon presentation of these stimuli differences in the brain’s response can be seen called the evoked potential (ERP). The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) occurs between 3 to 6-tenths of a second following the stimulus presentation. It is a positive change that is maximally measured over the central frontal lobe. The P300 response has been associated with self-processing. It is larger in response to stimuli such as one’s own name, face, or information about the person’s history. So, the P300 response is often used as a measure of the processing of information about the self, with the larger the positive change the greater the self-processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1441662135857708/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

Trautwein and colleagues employ the P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) in response to pictures of the self or a close friend to investigate the effectiveness of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve empathy and compassion in humans. They recruited adult long-term practitioners of LKM and a group of age, gender, handedness, and education matched non-meditators. The participants were asked to press a button every time a picture of either themselves of their friend was presented amid a series of other stimuli. This occurred on 20% of the time. They measured performed this task while wearing scalp electrodes to measure the EEG and the P300 response to these stimuli was recorded.

 

They found that, as expected, the LKM practitioners reported experiencing more compassionate love for strangers and all of humanity than control participants. They also found that, as expected, the P300 response in the parietal lobe of the brain was greater to the picture of the self than the friend. As a measure of the degree to which the participant viewed the self and other as similar, they measured the difference in the ERP response to the self vs. friend picture. They found that the smaller the difference between the self vs. friend P300 response the greater the levels of self-reported compassion. Importantly, they also found that the greater the amount of LKM practice the smaller the difference in the P300 response to self and friend.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) improves empathy and compassion by altering the brain’s response to self vs. others. In this way, individuals perceive other people as more like themselves, making them more compassionate and empathetic. It should be noted, however, that there was not a comparison group of meditators who did not practice LKM. So, it cannot be concluded that the effects were due to LKM practice specifically. It could be that any form of meditation practice would have similar effects. But, it is clear that meditation alters the brain’s response to self vs. others.

 

So, improve seeing others as like the self with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.”  – Barbara Fredrickson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, José Raúl Naranjo, and Stefan Schmidt Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation. Front. Psychol., 21 November 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785

 

Research in social neuroscience provides increasing evidence that self and other are interconnected, both on a conceptual and on an affective representational level. Moreover, the ability to recognize the other as “like the self” is thought to be essential for social phenomena like empathy and compassion. Meditation practices such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) have been found to enhance these capacities. Therefore, we investigated whether LKM is associated to an increased integration of self–other-representations. As an indicator, we assessed the P300 event-related potential elicited by oddball stimuli of the self-face and a close other’s face in 12 long-term practitioners of LKM and 12 matched controls. In line with previous studies, the self elicited larger P300 amplitudes than close other. This effect was reduced in the meditation sample at parietal but not frontal midline sites. Within this group, smaller differences between self- and other-related P300 were associated with increasing meditation practice. Across groups, smaller P300 differences correlated with self-reported compassion. In meditators, we also investigated the effect of a short LKM compared to a control priming procedure in order to test whether the state induction would additionally modulate self- vs. other-related P300. However, no effect of the priming conditions was observed. Overall, our findings provide preliminary evidence that prolonged meditation practice may modulate self- vs. other-related processing, accompanied by an increase in compassion. Further evidence is needed, however, to show if this is a direct outcome of loving-kindness meditation.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

 

Build Altruism with Compassion Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry. Uncomfortable if every child isn’t loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive. Uncomfortable when as a community we don’t treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated.” ~ Karen Armstrong

 

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. Individuals will sometimes sacrifice their own well-being and safety to help another. This is termed altruistic behavior. The fact that it sometimes actually reduces the likelihood of the individual’s survival appears to be a contradiction to the ideas of evolution that emphasize individual survival.

 

Altruistic behavior, however, is not rare. It is, in fact, often the rule and not the exception. Soldiers put their own lives at risk to save a buddy. Doctors and nurses risking infection, rush into ebola riddled villages to treat the sick and dying. Young adults leave their jobs and careers to tend to an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s Disease. These are rather extreme examples but altruistic behavior occurs in many simple ways on a daily basis. 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. The list is endless.

 

So, why do we engage so freely in this behavior that contradicts evolutionary theory? One idea is that it is promoted by our compassion. This is our ability to identify with the difficulties of others, put ourselves in their shoes, and feel their suffering. Although reasonable and logical this interpretation needs scientific confirmation. A callous interpretation of this behavior is that this compassion makes us uncomfortable, makes us suffer, and we do things to reduce our own suffering and make ourselves feel better. A kinder interpretation is that we have been taught to be compassionate and this energizes altruism. This notion would predict that engaging in practices that develop compassion would increase altruism. This idea, however, needs scientific testing and evaluation.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1208766975813893/?type=3&theater

Or see below, or for full text see

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675554/

Weng and colleagues examine the relationship of compassion to altruism in the laboratory and test the effectiveness of a compassion amplifying practice on the likelihood of compassionate behaviors. They first measured the empathetic concern of the participants with a paper and pencil test and then had them play in the laboratory a 3-person game developed to measure altruistic behaviors, either altruistic helping, in which the participant gave to another thereby reducing their own reward, or altruistic punishment where participants took away from another resulting in an overall reduction in their own reward. They found that the higher the level of trait compassion (empathetic concern) that the participant had the more they tended to help another to their own detriment. They also found that the higher the level of trait compassion the less they tended to punish another to their own detriment.

 

In a second experiment, Weng and colleagues randomly assigned participants to either a compassion meditation group or to a reappraisal group. They were then trained for two weeks either to meditate on the suffering of others, wish them well, and visualize compassion emanating from their heart, or to a control condition involving training on reappraising situations to lower stress and emotional reactions to stress. The participants then came to the laboratory and played the 3-person altruism game. They found that the compassion meditation group provided altruistic help significantly more than the reappraisal group. In fact, they spent 87% more money to help others.

 

This experiment, although somewhat artificial, suggests that compassion is highly related to altruism and that training in compassion increases altruism. Hence, these results support the notion that altruism occurs because of trained compassion. It also shows that altruism can be encouraged and amplified with compassion training. So, we can create more compassionate people and thereby a more altruistic world by specifically educating people in compassion.

 

So, build altruism with compassion meditation.

 

“Compassion is natural; you don’t have to force it; just open to the difficulty, the struggle, the stress, the impact of events, the sorrow and strain in the other person; open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through you. Feel what compassion’s like in your body — in your chest, throat, and face. Sense the way it softens your thoughts, gentles your reactions. Know it so you can find your way back again.” – Rick Hanson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

Study Summary

Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Hessenthaler, H. C., Stodola, D. E., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior. PLoS ONE, 10(12), e0143794. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143794

 

Abstract

Compassion, the emotional response of caring for another who is suffering and that results in motivation to relieve suffering, is thought to be an emotional antecedent to altruistic behavior. However, it remains unclear whether compassion enhances altruistic behavior in a uniform way or is specific to sub-types of behavior such as altruistic helping of a victim or altruistic punishment of a transgressor. We investigated the relationship between compassion and subtypes of altruistic behavior using third-party paradigms where participants 1) witnessed an unfair economic exchange between a transgressor and a victim, and 2) had the opportunity to either spend personal funds to either economically a) help the victim or b) punish the transgressor. In Study 1, we examined whether individual differences in self-reported empathic concern (the emotional component of compassion) was associated with greater altruistic helping or punishment behavior in two independent samples. For participants who witnessed an unfair transaction, trait empathic concern was associated with greater helping of a victim and had no relationship to punishment. However, in those who decided to punish the transgressor, participants who reported greater empathic concern decided to punish less. In Study 2, we directly enhanced compassion using short-term online compassion meditation training to examine whether altruistic helping and punishment were increased after two weeks of training. Compared to an active reappraisal training control group, the compassion training group gave more to help the victim and did not differ in punishment of the transgressor. Together, these two studies suggest that compassion is related to greater altruistic helping of victims and is not associated with or may mitigate altruistic punishment of transgressors.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675554/