The effects of mindfulness training and individual differences in mindfulness on social perception and empathy
Tipsord, Jessica M., 1980-
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Tipsord, Jessica M., 1980-
Both Buddhist scholars and psychological researchers have suggested that mindfulness practice may result in greater empathy, but previous research has found mixed results. In addition, Buddhist philosophy suggests that mindfulness should influence the perception of and felt connection to others. Little research, however, has examined such an influence. The present studies examined the effect of dispositional mindfulness, as well as short- and long-term mindfulness meditation practice, on trait and state empathy, social perception, and felt connection to others. Study 1 manipulated mindfulness with a guided meditation CD and found that participants in this condition experienced more serenity and less negative emotion relative to control conditions. Study 1 also clarified the relationship between dispositional mindfulness (measured with the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index), and felt connection (Allo-Inclusive Identity Scale). Results showed that different facets of mindfulness had different correlates. Higher observing scores were related to greater empathic concern and perspective taking; higher nonreactivity scores were related to less personal distress; and higher describing scores were associated with greater felt connection to others. Mindfulness was also associated with social perception such that higher nonreactivity scores were associated with greater ease in making emotion inferences from short video clips and higher describing scores were associated with making more mental state inferences in a modified empathic accuracy task. In Study 2, a randomized 8-week mindfulness intervention caused increases in dispositional mindfulness, especially describing scores, relative to a waitlist control condition. The intervention also resulted in increased serenity and joy and decreased negative affect and tension. Except for changes in serenity, these changes were fully mediated by increases in dispositional mindfulness. Those in the intervention condition decreased in personal distress to others' suffering, increased in the amount of mental state inferences they made for empathic accuracy targets, and increased in their ability to make inferences at times when the targets were actually having a thought or feeling. Thus, mindfulness training not only resulted in intrapersonal changes such as greater serenity and less tension; it also increased cognitive and emotional abilities important for empathy toward other people.