Mindfulness meditation can make some Americans more selfish and less generous


When Japanese chef Yoshihiro Murata traveled, He brought water from Japan.He said that only in this way can we really do it Authentic dashi, A delicious broth essential for Japanese cuisine. There is science to support him: Compared with many other parts of the world, Japan’s water is significantly softer-which means it has fewer dissolved minerals. Therefore, when Americans enjoy Japanese cuisine, it can be said that they did not get the real thing.

This phenomenon is not limited to food. Taking something out of a geographical or cultural background usually changes the thing itself.

Take the word “namaste” as an example. In modern Hindi, This is just a respectful greeting, Equivalent to a formal “hello”, suitable for speaking to the elders.But in the U.S., its connection with yoga Make many people believe It is essentially a spiritual word.

Another cultural tradition that changes with time and place is Mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental broad awareness of one’s own experience, usually cultivated through meditation.

A series of studies have found that mindfulness is beneficial to people who practice mindfulness in a variety of ways.

However, few studies have examined its impact on society, workplaces and communities. As a social psychologist at the University of Buffalo, I wonder if the growing enthusiasm for mindfulness might have overlooked something important: the way you practice it might affect others.

Booming market

Just in the past few years, the mindfulness industry has exploded in the United States Current estimates make the U.S. meditation market – Including meditation classes, studios and apps – approximately US$1.2 billion. It is expected to grow to more than US$2 billion by 2022.

hospital, school and even prison Is teaching and promoting mindfulness, And more than one-fifth of employers Currently offering mindfulness training.

The passion for mindfulness makes sense: Research shows that mindfulness can Reduce stress, increase self-esteem and reduce symptoms of mental illness.

In light of these findings, it is easy to assume that mindfulness has few shortcomings. The employers and educators who promote it seem to think so too. Maybe they hope that mindfulness not only makes people feel better, but also makes them better. In other words, maybe mindfulness can make people more generous, cooperative, or helpful—a trait that all employees or students love.

Mindfulness transfer

But in fact, we have every reason to doubt whether mindfulness practiced in the United States will automatically bring good results.

In fact, it may backfire.

That’s because it is out of context. Mindfulness is part of Buddhism, It is closely related to the spiritual teachings and morals of Buddhism. On the other hand, in the United States, mindfulness is usually taught and practiced in a purely secular way. It is often simply used as a tool to concentrate and improve happiness. Some critics call it the concept of mindfulness.”Mike Mindfulness.”

Not only that, but mindfulness and Buddhism have developed in Asian culture. The typical way people think about themselves is different from that in the United States. In particular, Americans tend to think about themselves. Independent in most cases Focus on “I”: “What do I want”, “Who am I”.In contrast, people in Asian culture Think about yourself more in an interdependent way Focus on “us”: “What do we want”, “Who are we”.

How people perceive their cultural differences is subtle and easily overlooked-a bit like different kinds of water. But just as these different types of water change the taste during cooking, I want to know whether different ways of thinking about yourself will change the effect of mindfulness.

For people whose thoughts are interdependent, what if the mindfulness focus on their own experiences might naturally include consideration for others-and make them more helpful or generous? If this is the case, then for independent-minded people, will the mindfulness of attention prompt them to pay more attention to their personal goals and desires, thereby making them more selfish?

Test social impact

I posed these questions to my colleagues at the University of Buffalo, Sheila GabrielBecause She is a recognized expert Self-thinking about independence and interdependence.

She agreed that this is an interesting question, so we conducted a study in collaboration with our student Minister Lauren, Kylie Morrison, and Ethan Naidu, and we had 366 college students entering the laboratory-this was in COVID -19 Before the pandemic-either a brief mindfulness meditation or actual control exercises involved DistractedWe also measured the degree to which people think about themselves independently or interdependently. (It is important to note that although cultural differences in thinking about yourself are real, Even in culture, there are differences in this characteristic.)

At the end of the study, we asked if people could help raise money for charities by sending envelopes to potential donors.

result -Accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science-Explains in detail how brief mindfulness meditation can make them more generous among individuals whose thoughts are relatively interdependent. Specifically, a brief exercise of mindfulness—rather than distraction—seems to increase the number of envelopes for interdependent people by 17%. However, among individuals with relatively independent thoughts, mindfulness seems to make them less generous with time. This group of participants inserted 15% less envelopes in the state of mindfulness than in the state of distraction.

In other words, the impact of mindfulness on people may vary, depending on how they view themselves. This metaphorical “water” can really change the formula of mindfulness.

Of course, water can be filtered. Similarly, people’s perceptions of themselves are variable: we are all able to think about ourselves independently and interdependently at different times.

In fact, there is a relatively simple way for people to change their perceptions of themselves. As the researchers Marilynn Brewer and Wendi Gardner Find, All you have to do is ask them to read a paragraph that has been modified to have a lot of “I” and “I” or a lot of “we” and “us” statements, and then let people recognize all the pronouns. Past research has shown This simple task reliably allows people to think about themselves in a more independent rather than interdependent way.

Our research team wants to see if this simple effect can also change the impact of mindfulness on social behavior.

With this in mind, We conducted another study. This time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was online, but we used the same exercise.

However, first, we let people complete the pronoun task mentioned above. After that, we asked people if they would voluntarily contact potential donors to charities.

Our results are amazing: Participating in short mindfulness exercises reduces the likelihood of volunteering for those who recognize the word “I/I” by 33%, but increases the likelihood of volunteering for those who recognize the word “us/us” 40%. In other words, just changing people’s current perceptions of themselves—the water that filters self-related thoughts, if you will—changes the impact of mindfulness on the behavior of many people participating in this research.

Attention as a tool

Take home news? Mindfulness may lead to good social outcomes or bad outcomes, depending on the context.

In fact, the monk Matthieu Ricard also said when he wrote Even the sniper embodies a kind of mindfulness. “Naked attention,” he added, “even though it’s perfect, it’s just a tool.” Yes, it can bring many benefits. But it can also “cause tremendous pain.”

If the practitioner strives to use mindfulness to reduce pain, rather than increase pain, it is important to ensure that people also pay attention to their relationship with others.

This “water” may be the key ingredient to bring out the full taste of mindfulness.


Michael J. Pauling, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Buffalo

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