Mindfulness is Associated with Greater Prosocial Behavior and Lower Rumination
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“With mindfulness, people deeply experience the present feelings with clarity and emotionally calm, and thus prevents them from suppression or rumination.” – Ying Yang
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. Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial emotions such as compassion, and empathy and prosocial behaviors such as altruism.
Worry (concern about the future) and rumination (repetitive thinking about the past) are associated with mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. Fortunately, worry and rumination may be interrupted by mindfulness and emotion regulation improved by mindfulness. But there has been little study of the relationships between mindfulness, prosocial behaviors and rumination.
In today’s Research News article “Prosocial Behavior Can Moderate the Relationship Between Rumination and Mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7180177/), Meng and Meng recruited adults high in rumination and low in rumination and asked them to evaluate what actions that they might take in a number of situations. They randomly assigned half of each group to work with situations that evoked either helping others (prosocial behavior) and the other half to work with neutral situations that didn’t involve helping. They were measured before and after the task for mindfulness and rumination. In a second study they recruited undergraduate students and had them complete questionnaires measuring mindfulness, rumination, and prosocial tendencies.
In the first study they found that overall, those participants high in rumination had significantly lower mindfulness than those low in rumination. They also found that the group working with helping situations had a significantly greater increase in mindfulness after the task than those working with the neutral situations and this effect was greatest in participants high in rumination.
In the second study they found that the higher the levels or all aspects of rumination the lower the levels of mindfulness. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the greater the tendencies for prosocial behavior. Finally, they performed a moderation analysis and found that those participants high in prosocial tendencies had greater reductions in mindfulness produced by the reflective pondering aspect of rumination than the participants low in tendencies for prosocial behavior.
Overall, they found that rumination was associated with lower levels of mindfulness. This is not surprising as rumination involves repetitive thinking about past and future events that is incompatible with present moment awareness, mindfulness. In addition, they found that working on tasks that demanded helping behavior tended to increase mindfulness especially when rumination was high. Further they found that tendencies for prosocial behaviors were associated with higher levels of mindfulness. This suggests that prosocial behavior and mindfulness are significantly related and that evoking thinking about prosocial behavior tends to make the individual more mindful.
Although many aspects of this study were correlative and do not indicate causal relationships, it is clear that mindfulness and prosocial behavior are positively related and that rumination interferes with this relationship. They also suggest that engaging in prosocial behavior helps make people who ruminate a lot to be more mindful.
Previous research has shown that training in mindfulness increases the tendency to engage in prosocial behavior. This study turns the tables and demonstrates that engaging in prosocial behaviors increases mindfulness. All of which suggests that being aware of what’s going on in the present moment makes the individual more likely to see what others may need and that tending to the needs of others evokes present moment awareness.
Mindfulness is associated with greater prosocial behavior and lower rumination.
“mindfulness meditation training increases compassionate prosocial behaviors.” – J. David Cresswell
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Meng, Y., & Meng, G. (2020). Prosocial Behavior Can Moderate the Relationship Between Rumination and Mindfulness. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 289. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00289
Rumination, which is a coping style to distress, has become a common mode of thinking about mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Improving mindfulness is an effective way to help people cope with rumination. Individuals who had higher prosocial behaviors reported a high level of mindfulness. This study aimed to explore whether prosocial behavior helps individuals with high-level rumination improve their mindfulness, and explain the reason why prosocial behavior can influence the relationship between mindfulness and rumination.
Introducing prosocial behavior situations, the first study chose 51 high-level rumination and 53 low-level rumination participants and measured the influence of prosocial behavior on mindful attention awareness in the present moment. In the second study, a questionnaire was conducted among 261 participants to explore the moderating effect of prosocial behavior between rumination and mindfulness.
In individuals with high-level rumination, ΔMAAS (mindful attention awareness scale) (posttest-baseline) scores in the prosocial behavior condition were significantly higher compared to those in the control condition (p=0.003). Meanwhile, prosocial behavior played a moderating effect between reflective pondering of rumination and mindfulness (R2 = 0.03, p=0.004).
Encouraging prosocial behavior is an effective way to improve mindfulness in highly ruminative individuals.