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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meditators are nicer

People meditate for lots of reasons -- to reach enlightenment, to lower their blood pressure, reduce anxiety, relieve stress. Most don't sit in order to be nicer to others, but a new study shows that meditation can have that effect.

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.