Meditation Increases Compassion

Meditation by the seaA recent study reported in New York Times on The Morality of Meditation showed that meditation increases compassion.

The study was done by Professor David DeSteno at Northeastern University with 39 volunteers divided into two groups. 20 were trained in mindfulness meditation and 19 other were put on a waiting list.

Dr. DeSteno reported,

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

The interesting thing is that 50% of the people who had meditation training relinquished their chairs while only 16% of the non-meditators did. I find this result very encouraging.

Other research by neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and their colleagues

confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.

You may recall that Richie Davidson is one of the contributors to The Compassionate Brain series from Sounds True hosted by Rick Hanson.

Rick Hanson is also hosting another series called, The Loving Brain – Tools for Real Issues, which you can access for free.

What is your mediation practice? Do you experience an increase in compassion?

I highly recommend Richie Davidson’s Book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them. It is a great book to learn about “emotional styles” and how they work in your life.

Emotional Life of Your Brain

Buy This Book!

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