Mindfulness can make us more “prosocial”

As part of the eight step Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programme within our Rezl app, we include a session on compassion and self-compassion – and the practice of a “loving kindness’” mediation… where one shows compassion to oneself:

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease of mind.”

and then show compassion to others – even those who you may not initially feel kindly towards:

“May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with peace of mind.”

Most secular mindfulness training programmes include such a topic within their content.

The excellent book “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” by Daniel Goleman  and Richard J. Davidson  touches on how scientific methods (bio markers and brain scans) were used to monitor the impact of such meditations. The book suggests that there are “levels of compassion” that may be experienced (my words not theirs). Off the top of my head,  I recall that if you see someone “suffering” then there are three “levels of compassion”: 1. that you can intellectually understand that someone is suffering; 2. that you can related to how they are feeling; and 3. that you suffer in response to their suffering (i.e. you may be distressed by their distress).  This last may be the precursor to your own intervention in a situation.

The training of our own ability to show self-compassion is very important if we are to avoid negative thinking and social anxiety… including “imposter syndrome” or feeling or low self-esteem etc; while ability to show compassion to others should make us “better citizens” shouldn’t it?

This last idea is the subject of a paper I noticed recently. “Does Mindfulness Training Without Explicit Ethics-Based Instruction Promote Prosocial Behaviors? A Meta-Analysis”  by Daniel R. Berry of California State University San Marcos published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin January 2020. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167219900418

The paper is a meta-analysis, looking at randomised controlled trials involving “secular mindfulness” that excluded ethics-based concepts (i.e. guide on right or wrong). The aim was to investigate if these mindfulness interventions caused subjects to be more “prosocial” (– more compassionate, less prejudiced and less likely to retaliate) despite the lack of ethics-based content.

The good news was that the research showed that: “Reliable effect size estimates were found for single-session interventions that measured prosocial behaviour immediately after training. Mindfulness training also reliably promotes compassionate (but not instrumental or generous) helping and reliably reduces prejudice and retaliation

So besides the resilience, mental well-being boost, and performance advantages (e.g. to focus and  to remain objective under pressure) – it turns out that Mindfulness may just help to make us nicer people!