Study shows how mindfulness could make some people more selfish

A study accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science from Michael Poulin, an associate professor in psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that the benefits of mindfulness may make some people more self-centered, depending on how they view themselves. 

The study polled 366 college students. Half of the group was asked to perform a breathing-focused meditation. The control group was tasked with letting their mind wander for 15 minutes not designed to promote mindfulness. Poulin also polled individuals on whether they considered themselves independent or interdependent. 

Research suggests mindfulness could make some people more self-centered depending on how they view themselves.

Research suggests mindfulness could make some people more self-centered depending on how they view themselves. (iStock)

Students were then given a test where they were told about a new project to help fund a charity for the homeless and were told they could create advertisements or marketing materials for it if they wished, though they were not mandated to do so. Anyone could leave the study early instead. 

Poulin discovered those who participated in the mindfulness exercises were willing to spend more time doing the charity work. 

The findings showed that those who were interdependent and took the mindfulness exercise were willing to spend more time on the charity project, and stuffed around 17% more envelopes than the control group. Those who were independent-minded showed more self-centered tendencies after the mindfulness exercises and were less willing to help, stuffing 15% fewer envelopes compared to the control group. 

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“A short mindfulness exercise made independent-minded people less generous than they would have been otherwise,” Poulin told FOX News in an email. “We believe that mindfulness makes people more aware and accepting of their own thoughts, goals, and values. And for independent-minded people, a lot of these thoughts are about getting the best outcomes for themselves. Donating money or time may not seem like it’s in their own interest.” 

Poulin and his team did a second study in which they gave participants text to read written in first-person with “I” or first-person plural sentences with “we.” They were told to choose all the pronouns signaling if they were independent or interdependent thinkers. After the exercise, they were told to meditate and asked if they wanted to participate in an activity for charity. Those who took the brief mindfulness exercise made people who chose “I/me” words 33% less likely to volunteer, while those who pointed out the “we/us” words and then meditated were 40% more likely to volunteer, according to Poulin. 

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“Merely making people think about the word ‘we’ instead of the word ‘I’ makes mindfulness bring out generosity,” Poulin explained. 

Poulin said people can foster a positive mindfulness practice best if they go into it knowing why they want to practice. 

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“If it’s primarily for relaxation or a sense of peace, our findings might not matter all that much. But to the extent someone wants to practice mindfulness for help with being a compassionate or moral person, it might be important to pair this practice with deliberate thoughts about how we are connected to others – that is, to be mindful of oneself as part of a ‘we’ not just an ‘I,’” he said.

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