Paul Condon, an assistant professor of psychology at SOU, recently published an article in Current Opinions in Psychology’s special issue on mindfulness about how meditation may increase empathy and altruism in certain contexts.
Current Opinions in Psychology, a scientific journal dedicated to recent discoveries and papers in the broad field of psychology, published the special issue on mindfulness in August. It included the work of more than 100 scholars from around the world to create the largest ever field-wide collection of texts on mindfulness since it became a scientific discipline two decades ago.
“It is without a doubt the most comprehensive and authoritative scholarly work on mindfulness that is currently available,” Condon said.
Mindfulness is defined as the awareness of one’s present experience, a type of pure “living in the moment” that was particularly central to Buddhist teachings. Nowadays, people practice mindfulness across many disciplines, including health care, social justice movements, corporations and mobile applications. Scientists have looked at mindfulness with an increasingly critical eye as it has increased in popularity, trying to explain how useful the practice is without making it seem like a cure-all.
Condon’s article focuses on how meditation and other mindfulness exercises can increase pro-social behavior, such as those that help the collective instead of the individual. Condon notes that the increase in pro-social behavior seems to only happen in certain contexts, and when meditating in a certain way.
“Various (historic) meditative practices support the cultivation of virtuous mental states and behavior…,” Condon said in the article. “In contrast to Buddhist traditions, many modern mindfulness programs emphasize an ethically neutral context. Yet an ethically neutral context could lead to problematic applications of mindfulness-based training.”
Testing and research hint that neutral-value meditation – which focuses on letting all feelings, even negative feelings and ideas, enter and leave one’s mind – can both raise and lower pro-social behavior depending on what the person was like before meditating.
Positive-value meditation – in which a person discerns between morally negative and positive thoughts while meditating, and focuses only on the positive ones – shows a stronger link to increasing pro-social behavior.
“Participants who completed a mindfulness or compassion meditation program offered their seat to (a) suffering confederate at a much higher rate (50 percent), compared with those in a wait-list control (15 percent)…,” Condon’s article said. “Other measures of prosocial behavior include reductions in hot sauce used to punish a transgressor; willingness to include an ostracized individual in the online ball-tossing game ‘Cyberball’; email messages written to an ostracized individual; and visual attention to scenes of suffering measured with eye-tracking.”
Ultimately, while the evidence is encouraging, Condon concluded that much still needs to be done and the study of mindfulness and pro-social behavior is still a burgeoning field.
Students and other members of the SOU community can read Condon’s entire essay, and the rest of Current Opinions in Psychology’s special issue, for free on this website until Oct. 30.
Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer