Skip to main content

Promoting Altruism Through Meditation: An 8-Week Randomized Controlled Pilot Study

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a Buddhist meditation intervention on empathy, perceived stress, mindfulness, self-compassion, and of particular interest, the dispositional tendency to feel empathic concern rather than personal distress when perceiving another as in need, termed altruistic orientation. Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group (n = 20) or a waiting list control group (n = 22). Results indicated a trend towards increases in altruistic orientation in the intervention group—an increase that significantly correlated with meditation time, decreases in perceived stress, and increases in self-compassion and mindfulness. Additionally, compared to the controls, significant increases in mindfulness and self-compassion and a significant decrease in perceived stress were obtained for the intervention group.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  • Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27–45.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bandura, A., & Rosenthal, L. (1966). Vicarious classical conditioning as a function of arousal level. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 54–62.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D. (2011). Altruism in humans. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., & Ahmad, N. (2001). Empathy-induced altruism in a prisoner’s dilemma II: what if the target of empathy has defected? European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 25–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., & Ahmad, N. (2009). Using empathy to improve intergroup attitudes and relations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 141–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., & Shaw, L. L. (1991). Evidence for altruism: toward a pluralism of prosocial motives. Psychological Inquiry, 2, 107–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., Bolen, M. H., Cross, J. A., & Neuringer-Benefiel, H. (1986). Where is the altruism in the altruistic personality? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 212–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., Fultz, J. N., & Schoenrade, P. A. (1987). Distress and empathy: two qualitatively distinct vicarious emotions with different motivational consequences. Journal of Personality, 55, 19–40.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., Polycarpou, M. P., Harmon-Jones, E., Imhoff, H. J., Mitchener, E. C., Bednar, L. L., & Highberger, L. (1997). Empathy and attitudes: can feeling for a member of a stigmatized group improve feelings toward the group? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 105–118.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berger, S. (1962). Conditioning through vicarious instigation. Psychological Review, 69, 450–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. (2010). Exploring self-compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26, 359–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buddhagosa, B. (1975). The path of purification (vol. 1). Shambala: Boulder.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chambers, R. H., Gullone, E., & Allen, N. B. (2009). Mindful emotion regulation: an integrative review. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(6), 560–572.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chödron, P. (1994). Start where you are: A guide to compassionate living. Boston: Shambala.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chödron, P. (2002). The places that scares you: A guide to fearlessness in difficult times [audio recording]. Louisville: Sounds True.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chödron, P. (2009). Perfect just as you are: Buddhist practices on the four limitless ones: Loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity [audio recording]. New York: Shambala Audio.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cliffordson, C. (2001). The structure of empathy: An analysis of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). In C. Cliffordson (Ed.), Assessing empathy: Measurement characteristics and interviewer effects. Acta: Gothenburg.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385–396.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crocker, J., & Canevello, A. (2008). Creating and undermining social support in communal relationships: the role of compassionate and self-image goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 555–575.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, M. H. (1983). The effects of dispositional empathy on emotional reactions and helping: a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality, 51, 167–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, M. H. (1994). Empathy: A social psychological approach. Madison: Brown & Benchmark.

    Google Scholar 

  • De Waal, F. B. M. (2008). Putting the altruism back into altruism: the evolution of empathy. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 279–300.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Decety, J. (2011). Dissecting the neural mechanisms mediating empathy. Emotion Review, 3, 92–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Decety, J., & Jackson, P. L. (2004). The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3, 71–100.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Decety, J., & Lamm, C. (2011). Empathy versus personal distress: Recent evidence from social neuroscience. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The social neuroscience of empathy (pp. 199–214). London: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisenberg, N., & Eggum, N. D. (2011). Empathic responding: Sympathy and personal distress. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The social neuroscience of empathy (pp. 71–84). London: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisenberg, N., & Fabes, R. A. (1992). Emotion regulation and the development of social competence. In M. S. Clark (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology: vol. 14. Emotion and social behavior (Vol. 14, pp. 119–150). Newbury Park: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Miller, P. A., Fultz, J., Shell, R., Mathy, R. M., & Reno, R. R. (1989). Relation of sympathy and personal distress to prosocial behavior: a multimethod study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 55–66.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eskin, M., & Parr, D. (1996). Introducing a Swedish version of an instrument measuring mental stress. Stockholm University: Reports from the department of psychology, 1–9.

  • Evans, C., Connell, J., Barkham, M., Margison, F., McGrath, G., Mellor-Clark, J., & Audin, J. (2002). Towards a standardised brief outcome measure: psychometric properties and utility of the CORE-OM. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 51–60.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045–1062.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galinsky, A. D., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2000). Perspective-taking: decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 708–724.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: an evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 351–374.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grepmair, L., Mitterlehner, F., Loew, T., Bachler, E., Rother, W., & Nickel, M. (2007). Promoting mindfulness in psychotherapists in training influences the treatment results of their patients: a randomized, double-blind, controlled study. Psychothery and Psychosomatics, 76(6), 332–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harmon-Jones, E., Vaughn-Scott, K., Mohr, S., Sigelman, J., & Harmon-Jones, C. (2004). The effect of manipulated sympathy and anger on left and right frontal cortical activity. Emotion, 4, 95–101.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1126–1132.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howell, D. C. (2010). Fundamental statistics for the behavioral sciences. Belmont: Cengage Wadsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Cognition and Emotion, 8, 720–724.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kyabgon, T. (2007). The practice of Lojong: cultivating compassion through training the mind. Boston: Shambala.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lama, D., & Cutler, H. C. (1998). The art of happiness: A handbook for living. New York: Riverhead Book.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lilja, J., Frodi-Lundgren, A., Johansson Hanse, J., Josefsson, T., Lundh, L. G., Sköld, C., & Broberg, A. (2010). Five facets of mindfulness questionnaire—reliability and factor structure: a Swedish version. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 40, 291–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lykins, E. L. B., & Baer, R. A. (2009). Psychological functioning in a sample of long-term practitioners of mindfulness meditation. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23, 226–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McLeod, K. (2001). Wake up to your life: Discovering the Buddhist path of attention. New York: Harper One.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller, P. A., & Eisenberg, N. (1988). The relation of empathy to aggressive and externalizing/antisocial behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 324–344.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ortner, C. N. M., Kilner, S. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2007). Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 271–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pace, T. W. W., Negi, L. T., Adame, D. D., Cole, S. P., Sivilli, T. I., Brown, T. D., & Raison, C. L. (2009). Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 87–98.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piliavin, J. A., & Charng, H. W. (1990). Altruism: a review of recent theory and research. Annual Review of Sociology, 16, 27–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Preston, S. D., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2002). Empathy: its ultimate and proximate bases. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25(1), 1–71.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rinpoche, P. (1994). The words of my perfect teacher. Boston: Shambala.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenthal, R. (1984). Meta-analytical procedure for social research. Beverly Hills: Sage Publication Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Safarzadeh, K. & Wallmark, E. (2011). The four immeasurables program: training empathy and promoting altruism through meditation. An eight-week randomized controlled pilot study (Unpublished master’s thesis). Department of Psychology, Lund University. Retrieved from https://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=1977623&fileOId=1977642.

  • Schroeder, D. A., Dovidio, J. F., Sibicky, M. E., Matthews, L. L., & Allen, J. L. (1988). Empathic concern and helping behavior: egoism or altruism? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 333–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro, S. L., & Izett, C. (2008). Meditation: A universal tool for cultivating empathy. In S. F. Hick & T. Bien (Eds.), Mindfulness and the therapeutic relationship (pp. 161–175). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stotland, E. (1969). Exploratory investigations of empathy. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 4). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Urbaniak, G. C., & Plous, S. (2011). Research Randomizer. Retrieved from http://www.randomizer.org.

  • Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 123–130.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, A. (2010). The four immeasurables: Practices to open the heart. New York: Snow Lion.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. The American Psychologist, 61, 690–701.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daiva Daukantaitė.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wallmark, E., Safarzadeh, K., Daukantaitė, D. et al. Promoting Altruism Through Meditation: An 8-Week Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Mindfulness 4, 223–234 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0115-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0115-4

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Altruism
  • Stress
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-compassion
  • Meditation