So It Turns Out Mindfulness Could Be Making You Selfish

mindfulness selfishness

If you’ve ever visited our wellness vertical, you know we love all things mindfulness — we’re big proponents of it. We’ve talked about it in relation to sleep, how it can benefit migraine sufferers, and even help out with your immune system. We’ve also informed you that perhaps mindfulness isn’t quite for everyone. We’d never tell you it makes you selfish.

We wouldn’t — but this study will.

Coming out of the University of Buffalo, it turns out all that looking inwards actually has some downsides. Specifically, in terms of prosocial behaviours — looking outwardly at the social effects of mindfulness.

Or as the lead author of the paper Michael Poulin, associate professor of psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, says “Mindfulness can make you selfish. It’s a qualified fact, but it’s also accurate.”

How? Well, for those who tend to view themselves as more independent, mindfulness actually decreased prosocial behaviour — the range of human behaviours that can potentially help or benefit other people.

The research team looked at 366 participants and measured their characteristic levels of independence (I) versus interdependence (we). They then provided mindfulness instruction, or a mind-wandering exercise, to the control group. Before they left, they were told about volunteer opportunities stuffing envelopes for a charitable organisation.

In this first experiment, those who tended to be independent showed decreased prosocial behaviour. For the second experiment, 325 participants were encouraged to lean one way or another, through the use of a specific exercise — that divvies up people into thinking of themselves as independent, or interdependent.

It contained the same mindfulness training, and control procedures, as the first experiment, but afterwards, they were asking if they’d sign up to chat online with potential donors to raise money for a charitable organisation.

The researchers found that those primed for independence were less likely to volunteer by 33%. Those who were primed for interdependence had a 40% increase in the likelihood for volunteering to the same organisation.

Poulin calls mindfulness a “tool” and emphasises that “we have to know how to use the tool” in order to get the most out of mindfulness — so that the practice can benefit someone both personally, and socially.

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