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Meditation leads to compassion - a scientific link

LincLinc Community InstigatorDetroit Moderator
Interesting article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/opinion/sunday/the-morality-of-meditation.html?_r=1&;
The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.
riverflowWisdom23karmabluesI_AM_THATVastmindpersonkarastiJeffreyInvincible_summerfedericalobsterstavros388DavidsovaiamabuddhistThinGentlement

Comments

  • DaozenDaozen Veteran
    Fascinating! Thanks. I think Buddha was the first true mind-scientist.
    sovaiamabuddhist
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited July 2013
    Half of the meditators gave up their seat for a woman on crutches.
    An alternative explanation for that could be consistency.
    Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cialdini
    The meditators are in the process of changing their self-image to something consistent with their meditation practice.
    Wouldn’t you expect a meditator to be mindful enough to give up his seat? If so, when I regularly meditate, I give up my seat, or else what am I?

    We can probably see the same effect of taking a Buddhist name (a hugely powerful factor of self-image) or of reciting Buddhist texts. Saying a daily Christian prayer maybe?

    I’m not convinced they proved that eight weeks of meditation changed the way the brain works.
    JeffreyInvincible_summer
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    Actually there have been a few studies done showing around the 8 week mark starts to show changes in the brain due to meditation.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112150339.htm

    That said, I'm not convinced some other random practice would do the same thing. The people in the study (as far as I could tell?) were not Buddhist. They had never meditated before. Just because they were participating in the study doesn't mean they were out to change themselves the way most of us are.


    Invincible_summer
  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran
    I wonder what sort of meditation they were doing in the study mentioned in the NY Times article.
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran
    @zenff The control group were also people interested in the meditation study but were told that it was full and that they would be able to participate in the next round. So there does seem to be some intent for the non meditators to also want to identify as being a better person.
    We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    karasti said:

    They had never meditated before. Just because they were participating in the study doesn't mean they were out to change themselves the way most of us are.

    Just out of curiosity, what might you be suggesting?
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    I'm not suggesting anything. Only saying that just because *we* meditate as Buddhist, and because most of us meditate to make changes to our lives, doesn't mean everyone does, and it doesn't mean everyone who would participate in such a study would, either. I was referring to this statement:
    The meditators are in the process of changing their self-image to something consistent with their meditation practice.
    Wouldn’t you expect a meditator to be mindful enough to give up his seat?

    I don't think it's fair to assume that anyone who meditates does it for mindfulness, nor fair to assume everyone who volunteered for the study did it to become better people and thus they automatically have some preconceived view of their self-image to uphold and that is why they offered their seats.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Indeed it could be true that merely meditating regularly, for whatever reason, might foster in a person the self-image of a selfless person or a person that would readily give up their seat to someone else in need. Meditation is strongly associated with spiritual practice, Buddhism, etc., so it's easy to see how anyone could self-identify with perceived associated qualities.

    The experiment as presented only indicates a correlation. There are far too many variables to draw a firm conclusion, imo.
  • DaozenDaozen Veteran
    zenff said:

    Half of the meditators gave up their seat for a woman on crutches.
    An alternative explanation for that could be consistency.

    Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cialdini
    The meditators are in the process of changing their self-image to something consistent with their meditation practice.They only committed to meditate, not to be kind.
    zenff said:

    Wouldn’t you expect a meditator to be mindful enough to give up his seat? If so, when I regularly meditate, I give up my seat, or else what am I?

    Doesn't that precisely agree with the conclusion of the study, ie that meditators, via mindfulness, become more compassionate?
  • Straight_ManStraight_Man Gentle Man Punta Gorda, Florida, USA Veteran
    Daozen said:



    Doesn't that precisely agree with the conclusion of the study, ie that meditators, via mindfulness, become more compassionate?

    Well, meditation does increase mindfulness, my practice taught me that. But I had to cultivate compassion in my practice to increase it. I had to actively seek greater compassion as a part of practicing goal set (I am a beginner, use beginner's words, excuse me please).

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    There are similar studies where MRI scans are actually done of the differences n the brain for expert meditation practitioners and novice (never having meditated) and how compassion and affect areas of the brain were triggered when presented with stimuli that should evoke compassionate response. Of course in the expert group, the difference was greater, but even in the notice group, it was a notable difference. Not solely in how they reacted to the situational stimuli, but in *actual* physical changes to the brain. Neuro plasticity is a fascinating topic.
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    Neuro plasticity is a fascinating topic.
    Want to change? Have to meditate and a few other things.

    I have spent most of my life turning what few neurons I have, to fluid.
    My practice, which I am just about to start, is dedicated to my favourite people. Those with the courage to liquidise.

    It will blend. Go for it :clap:
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    I’m all for meditation, and I love reading about scientific research on the positive effects of meditation. I just think this little test is too simple. The effect that they noticed was maybe not very specific for meditation.

    I suppose the same drastic changes can be created with any sort of activity that makes people self-identify with being a particularly friendly person.

    And I wonder: were kindness and compassion mentioned in the course or on the guided-meditation tape?
    Did people look up background information on the internet?
    Or is “sitting like Buddha” an iconic image of being at peace and being kind?

    Part of Cialdini’s idea is that the actual activity does the trick. Just thinking about being kind is relatively worthless, but when we do something or say it in public or write it on the wall; that’s when we feel the urge to be consistent with the corresponding self-image when we make our choices.

    It’s funny to note that Buddhism is referred to as practice.
    I’m convinced people who “practice”, change their behavior more than people who only study. Simply doing something small that is typical for a Buddhist; urges us to behave consistently to the self-image we create through this small activity.


  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    It would be nice to know what kind of meditation they did. I don't disagree with the problems with the study, I just think that when taken in combination with many other similar studies, it's fair to make a leap that it did affect them in ways beyond simply their self-expectation that they act a certain way now that they were meditators.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    edited July 2013
    What if there were simply less men in the control group. There's a cultural expectation that a man should give up a chair to any woman, regardless of handicap. There are other significant influential factors such as perceived social status, age, race, and mere proximity to the test subject.
  • DaozenDaozen Veteran
    Nevermind said:

    What if there were simply less men in the control group. There's a cultural expectation that a man should give up a chair to any woman, regardless of handicap. There are other significant influential factors such as perceived social status, age, race, and mere proximity to the test subject.

    You would expect in a properly randomised trial that those factors would be evened out over the two groups, ie a roughly 50/50 split between sexes, and likewise proportional representation of other factors.

    I will say this: it was a very small sample size (one group of 20, another of 19). It's an interesting initial result worthy of further examination using a larger population.
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