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Multiple studies find mindfulness increases prosocial behavior

Posted 02.15.2018 | by AMRA

While people generally regard helpfulness and friendliness to be virtues, they often fail to extend their empathy to strangers in need. Berry et al. [Journal of Experimental Psychology] conducted a series of four experiments to see whether mindfulness—as an individual’s disposition and as an induced mental state—increases prosocial behavior towards an excluded stranger by increasing empathic concern.

In the first study, 82 undergraduates (52% female, 58% Caucasian) completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Act with Awareness subscale of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Participants then watched a Cyberball computer game involving three computer-generated characters playing catch. Participants were misled into believing that the computer-generated characters represented three live participants playing the game in other rooms. During the observed game, two characters excluded the third character by passing the ball only between themselves.

After watching the game, participants were assessed for empathic concern and distress, and asked to write emails to each of the players. Empathic concern is the desire to help others, whereas empathic distress often leads to focusing on relieving one’s own distress rather than helping others. Participants then played a game of Cyberball together with the other characters. The researchers rated the helpfulness of the emails written to the excluded character, and counted how often the participant threw the ball to the excluded character.

The study found that higher mindfulness was significantly associated with higher empathic concern (but not empathic distress), more helpful emails, and a greater number of ball throws to the excluded character.

In the second study, 83 undergraduates (68% female, 44% Caucasian) completed the same personality measures and followed the same Cyberball protocol as in the first […]

February 15th, 2018|News|

Meditation generates compassion for other’s embarrassment

Posted 06.15.2017 | by AMRA

The social pain associated with rejection or embarrassment activates some of the same brain structures that are activated during the experience of physical pain. These brain structures are also activated when we witness someone else’s embarrassment. Feeling distressed over someone else’s embarrassment can cause us to focus on reducing our own distress rather than on responding compassionately to the other person. In this way, excessive empathic distress paradoxically decreases our ability to relate compassionately.

Can mindfulness reduce the magnitude of empathic distress caused by another’s social pain, thereby facilitating increased compassion? Laneri et al. [Human Brain Mapping] explored how both mindfulness meditation and long-term meditation practice affect the brain mechanisms associated with empathic distress in long-term meditators and matched controls.

The researchers recruited 32 long-term meditators (average age = 51 years, 63% male, average length of meditation practice = 17 years, meditation practice = Zen, Vipassana, or Mindfulness Meditation) and 19 matched meditation-naïve control participants. All of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while engaging in a task designed to elicit empathic distress at someone else’s embarrassment.

Half of the long-term meditators were randomly assigned to engage in mindfulness meditation for eight minutes immediately before participating in the fMRI-monitored task, while the other half were instructed to merely rest prior to the task. The meditation-naïve controls also merely rested prior to the task.

The empathy-for-embarrassment task involved viewing a set of embarrassing and neutral social situations presented on a computer screen in the form of drawings accompanied by brief descriptions. As an example, one of the embarrassing situations included the description, “You are at a post-office: you observe a women’s trouser ripping while she […]

June 15th, 2017|News|

Building mindful awareness to help people in need

Posted 03.24.2015 | by AMRA


Can mindfulness training increase real-life compassionate behavior, and can it do so when the training is delivered via a smartphone? If mindfulness training improves compassion, does it do so by enhancing one’s ability to accurately judge other people’s emotional states, or by some other means? To address these questions, Lim et al. [PLOS One] randomly assigned 69 college undergraduates to either a mindfulness meditation (MM) or cognitive skills (CS) training program. Both programs were delivered over self-guided web-based smartphone applications.

A total of 56 participants completed the three week long interventions. The MM participants engaged in 14 mindfulness meditation sessions lasting an average of 12 minutes each. The sessions did not include loving-kindness or compassion content. The CS participants engaged in 14 game-playing sessions designed to enhance memory, attention, speed, and problem solving.

After completing training, participants were asked to return to a lab waiting area that contained three chairs, two of which were already occupied by alleged “participants,” who were actually researcher confederates (i.e. actors who played participants), and the third of which was to be occupied by the participant. As they sat waiting, another confederate entered with crutches and a walking boot, acting as if in pain. The seated confederates showed indifference to the newcomer.

Researchers then observed whether or not the participants yielded their seats to the newcomer. Following this assessment of compassionate behavior, participants were assessed on their ability to identify emotions from photographs and audio clips, a test of whether the mindfulness training had also improved their ability to read other people’s emotions.

MM participants were more than twice as likely to yield their chairs than were CS participants (37% […]

March 24th, 2015|News|

Elementary school-based program boosts cognitive skills in children

Posted 02.23.2015 | by AMRA


Educators and administrators seek out school-based programs that help students develop self-awareness, self-regulation, relationship, and decision-making skills. Schonert-Reichl et al. [Developmental Psychology] evaluated a mindfulness-based social and emotional learning curriculum (MindUP) to see if it improved children’s cognitive control, well-being, prosocial behavior, and academic performance.

Ninety-nine British Columbian public school 4th and 5th graders had their classrooms randomly assigned to either the MindUP program or a routine social responsibility curriculum. The 4-month MindUP intervention included 3-minute mindfulness exercises (breathing and listening) repeated 3 times daily. It also included twelve 40-50 minute weekly lessons on mindfulness, perspective taking, optimism, empathy, gratitude, kindness, and community service.

The control group followed the standard British Columbian public school curriculum. The children were assessed before and after the interventions on computerized tests of executive function, self-report measures of pro-sociality, and year-end math grades were also obtained from school records.

The MindUP children showed significantly greater improvement in executive function reaction time. They also showed significant moderate-sized improvements on self-report measures of empathy, perspective taking, optimism, emotional control, self-concept depressive symptoms, and mindfulness. In contrast, controls decreased over time on these self-report measures.

MindUP children were significantly more likely to show moderate to large improvements on peer behavioral nominations for sharing, trustworthiness, helpfulness, and taking other’s points of view, while exhibiting significantly greater decreases in rule breaking and starting fights. There was also a trend towards higher math scores for MindUP participants relative to controls.

These results show that mindfulness training may provide added value to programs aimed at improving children’s emotional and social competencies. Classroom interventions like MindUp offer the promise of making a meaningful contribution to children’s future academic and […]

February 23rd, 2015|News|

Mindfulness curriculum promotes prosocial behavior in preschoolers

Posted: 12.15.2014 | by AMRA


Young children’s capacity to self-regulate attention and emotion contributes to their scholastic success and predicts their academic attainment. There is a need for programs that enhance children’s self-regulation skills, and mindfulness-based interventions that promote sustained attention, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility may be good candidates. Flook et al. [Developmental Psychology] developed a mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum (KC) for preschool-aged children and tested its ability to improve their executive functioning, self-regulation, and academic and social development.

Sixty-eight ethnically-diverse children in 6 urban Midwestern preschools were randomly assigned to either KC or a wait-list control condition. KC was administered in two 20-30 minute weekly sessions over 12 weeks, and emphasized mindfulness, empathy, gratitude and sharing through multiple modalities including music, children’s literature, and movement. The children were tested immediately before and after the program on behavioral tasks of willingness to share and willingness to delay gratification, and computerized tasks of cognitive flexibility and freedom from distraction. Their teachers rated their social competence before and after the intervention and assigned routine report card grades three months after program completion.

The KC children showed significantly greater improvement in their teacher-rated prosocial behavior (Cohen’s d = 0.29) and emotional regulation (d = 0.25), than did the control children. The KC children also showed significantly greater report card improvement on Approaches to Learning (d = 0.54), Health and Physical Development (d = 0.56), and Social and Emotional Development (d = 0.97).

On the willingness-to-share task (a task involving the children dividing up ten stickers between themselves and their peers), control children displayed significantly more selfish behavior over time, reserving more of the stickers for themselves, while the KC children did not display […]

December 15th, 2014|News|