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Brief mindfulness training ups willingness to volunteer help

13 Sep 2022 9:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Does mindfulness practice increase altruism? Research suggests the answer is mixed. For example, mindfulness practice is shown to increase altruistic behavior among people who have a strong predisposition to altruism but decrease it when they are self-centered.

Interpreting the data from existing studies can be difficult because studies vary as to whether they teach mindfulness in conjunction with lovingkindness and compassion or as a stand-alone attentional practice.

Malin & Gumpel [Mindfulness] conducted an experiment to test whether a brief mindfulness practice affected people’s willingness to help someone in distress. They also examined whether mindfulness practice had a larger effect on helping behavior in people with higher initial levels of empathy.

The researchers randomly assigned 189 Israeli undergraduates (85% female; mean age = 21 years) to either mindfulness practice, listening to music, or listening to a lecture. Interventions and data collection were administered by Zoom.

The mindfulness group involved two 30-minute guided meditations offered one week apart. Meditation focused on non-judgmental observation of sensations, thoughts, and feelings during a body scan. Meditation training did not include training in loving-kindness or compassion.

Music and lecture control conditions were also offered in two 30-minute Zoom sessions one week apart. The music intervention consisted of relaxing classical music, and the lecture topics focused on empathy and help-giving. Participants were assessed prior to the intervention on a self-report measure of capacity for empathy.

At the end of the second intervention session, participants listened to a pre-recorded sham interview with a college student named “Anna.” Anna was alleged to be part of the college radio station’s effort to determine what content interested students. In the interview, Anna described her difficulties struggling with a chronic illness.

Study participants then completed questionnaires measuring state mindfulness and their empathic response to Anna. They were also provided an opportunity to register to volunteer for an organization that helped people like Anna. Participants intending to volunteer could also submit their personal information so that the volunteer organization could contact them. 

Study results showed the mindfulness group had a significantly greater proportion of participants willing to volunteer to help people like Anna than the control groups. Thirty-six percent of the mindfulness group left contact information so that they could volunteer, while 14% of the music and 16% of the lecture group did. 

Baseline empathy levels significantly predicted self-reported empathy for “Anna” in the mindfulness group (b=1.40), but not in the music (b=0.28) or lecture (b=0.09) groups. Specifically, mindfulness practice increased empathic responding in participants with high baseline levels of empathy and decreased empathic responding in those with low baseline levels of empathy. Listening to music or a lecture on empathy did not show this effect.

Self-reported empathy for “Anna” correlated with a willingness to volunteer in the mindfulness (r=.38) and music groups (r=.30) but not in the lecture group (r=.04).

The results show that guided meditation practice can increase the intention to volunteer to help a stranger in distress (at least shortly after mindfulness practice). People with high baseline levels of empathy have higher levels of empathic response to a person in distress after mindfulness practice. On the other hand, mindfulness decreases empathic responsiveness in people with low baseline levels of empathy.

The study is limited to the degree that it measures intent to volunteer rather than actual volunteering.


Malin, Y., & Gumpel, T. P. (2022). Short Mindfulness Meditation Increases Help-Giving Intention Towards a Stranger in Distress. Mindfulness. 

Link to study

American Mindfulness Research Association, LLC. 

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