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Incorporating Ethics Into Brief Mindfulness Practice: Effects on Well-Being and Prosocial Behavior

Abstract

Mainstream mindfulness programs, as in first-generation mindfulness-based interventions, generally do not incorporate Buddhist ethics, causing some scholars to worry that they may encourage self-indulgence and have limited capacity to promote well-being. We compare the effects of practicing mindfulness with additional ethical instruction (EthicalM) or without such instruction (SecularM) on well-being and prosocial behavior. Participants (N = 621) completed 6 days of ethical or secular mindfulness exercises or active control exercises. Secular and ethical mindfulness both reduced stress (EthicalM: p = 0.011, d = − 0.25; SecularM: p = 0.005, d = − 0.28) and increased life satisfaction (EthicalM: p = 0.008, d = 0.26; SecularM: p = 0.069, d = 0.18) and self-awareness (EthicalM: p = 0.011, d = 0.25; SecularM: p = 0.051, d = 0.19). Ethical mindfulness also enhanced personal growth (p = 0.032, d = 0.21). Ethical, relative to secular, mindfulness also increased prosocial behavior—money donated to a charity (p = 0.020, d = 0.24). This effect was moderated by trait empathy: Trait empathy predicted donation amounts for participants who had completed mindfulness exercises (ethical or secular) but not controls. Furthermore, low trait empathy participants gave significantly less money following secular mindfulness practice than control exercises, whereas high trait empathy participants gave more money following ethical mindfulness practice than control exercises. Mindfulness training may thus have unintended consequences, making some people less charitable, though incorporating instruction on ethics, as in some second-generation mindfulness-based interventions, may forestall such effects.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Victoria Parker, Leah Parent, Emma Smith, Amanda Montagliani, Hannah Rivard, and Sydney Goldberg for the help in collecting the data.

Funding

This research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant (435-2014-1182) to C.H. Jordan.

Author information

SC collaboratively designed the study, executed the study, analyzed the data, wrote the first draft, and collaboratively revised further drafts of the paper. CHJ collaboratively designed the study, consulted on data analyses, and collaboratively revised drafts of the paper.

Correspondence to Siyin Chen.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures in this study were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the Research Ethics Board of Wilfrid Laurier University and the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Chen, S., Jordan, C.H. Incorporating Ethics Into Brief Mindfulness Practice: Effects on Well-Being and Prosocial Behavior. Mindfulness 11, 18–29 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0915-2

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Ethics
  • Well-being
  • Prosocial behavior