Does Mindfulness Meditation Really Make You Kinder?

New studies suggest that training in mindfulness may help us show more care and compassion toward others.

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Mindfulness meditation proponents often tout it as a way to create a more compassionate society. But that claim seems a bit dubious upon first glance.

After all, meditation is an internal affair—focusing on our own experiences, emotions, and thoughts—and people generally meditate alone. What does that have to do with how we treat anyone else? While some meditation practices directly aim for increasing compassion—such as loving-kindness meditation—others focus more on creating mindful attention, a focus on one’s present experience. This seem less likely to automatically impact how we relate to others.

Yet evidence is mounting that mindfulness meditation proponents might be right. Though the science is far from conclusive, it points to the likelihood that mindfulness meditation does lead to “prosocial” (kind and caring) feelings and thoughts, and more compassionate behavior towards others. And it may do so by training people in mindful awareness.

“Almost any approach for cultivating care for others needs to start with paying attention,” says Stanford researcher Erika Rosenberg. “The beginning of cultivating compassion and concern, or doing something for the benefit of others, is first noticing what something or someone means to you.”

A gateway to caring behavior

One recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology took…