A team of researchers at Northeastern University recruited 36 people who said they were interested in meditation. Half, the control group, were told they were on a wait list. The other half were given eight weeks of meditation instruction, with half of that group also involved in discussions of Buddhist teachings on compassion and sufferings.
To test the effects, subjects were told to come to an office; the waiting room had three chairs, two occupied by actors involved in the experiment. The subject naturally took the third chair, and another actor -- on crutches and with a look of pain -- came in.
The study found that about 15 percent of the non-meditators – the wait-listed group – got up and offered their seat to the sufferer compared to about 50 percent of those in both meditation groups – those who engaged in discussions about compassion and those who only participated in meditation training. The results suggest that it was the meditation itself — not the discussions — that accounted for the increase.The research team is now looking at why meditators were more likely to give up their seats.It could be related to a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings or an increased sense of empathy, they speculate.
“This is the first evidence that the practice of meditation—even for brief periods of time—increases peoples’ responsiveness and motivation to relieve the suffering of others,” psychology professor David DeSteno said.