Emerging evidence that mindfulness can sometimes increase selfish tendencies

Emerging evidence that mindfulness can sometimes increase selfish tendencies

This is one smart ingredient!!
Whether you are a school teacher, a hospital worker, a Google programmer, a US Marines officer or even a UK politician, you’ll have been encouraged to embrace mindfulness by colleagues and supervisors. Even my smartwatch regularly reminds me to take a “mindful minute”. 

The immediate outcomes of this popular form of meditation are meant to be reduced stress and risk of burnout. But listed alongside these benefits, you’ll often find claims that mindfulness can improve your personality. When you learn to live in the moment, the proponents say, you will find hidden reserves of empathy and compassion for those around you. That’s certainly an attractive bonus for an organisation hoping to increase co-operation in its teams. 

The scientific research, however, paints a more complicated picture of mindfulness’s effects on our behaviour, with emerging evidence that it can sometimes increase people’s selfish tendencies. According to a new paper, mindfulness may be especially harmful when we have wronged other people. By quelling our feelings of guilt, it seems, the common meditation technique discourages us from making amends for our mistakes.  

“Cultivating mindfulness can distract people from their own transgressions and interpersonal obligations, occasionally relaxing one’s moral compass,” says Andrew Hafenbrack, assistant professor of management and organisation at the University of Washington, US, who led the new study. 

Such effects shouldn’t discourage us from meditating, stresses Hafenbrack, but may change when and how we choose to do it. “While some have viewed it as a panacea, mindfulness meditation is a specific practice with specific psychological effects,” he says. And we need to be a bit more… well, mindful about those effects. 

Calm and callous? 

There are many forms of mindfulness, but the most common techniques involve either focusing on your breathing or paying intense attention to the sensations in your body. There is some good evidence that these practices can help people to cope better with stress, yet a handful of studies over the past few years have shown that they can also have some unexpected and undesired effects. Last year, for example, researchers from the State University of New York showed that mindfulness can exaggerate people’s selfish tendencies. If a person is already individualist, then they become even less likely to help others after meditation. 

Hafenbrack’s new study examined whether our state of mind at the time of meditating, and our social context, might influence its effects on our behaviour.

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Charlie Layers

Charlie Layers

Fill your life with experiences so you always have a great story to tellBio: About:

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