Mindfulness could 'lead to increase in selfishness'

·2-min read

A new study has warned that mindfulness could lead to a significant increase in selfishness.

The popular practice is associated with reducing stress and anxiety, however, researchers at the University at Buffalo discovered that it leads to a decrease in prosocial behaviour, which involve helping others with activities such as sharing, donating, and volunteering.

"Mindfulness can make you selfish. It's a qualified fact, but it's also accurate," study lead author Michael Poulin explained. "Mindfulness increased prosocial actions for people who tend to view themselves as more interdependent.

"However, for people who tend to view themselves as more independent, mindfulness actually decreased prosocial behaviour," he added.

Poulin said that mindfulness can be interpreted in different ways by two mindsets – independent vs. interdependent mindsets, meaning that some people think of themselves in singular terms, while others think of themselves in plural terms.

The researchers analysed 366 participants' levels of independence versus interdependence, before providing a mindfulness instruction to the control group.

Before leaving the session, participants were then told about volunteer opportunities for a charitable organisation. In this experiment, they found that mindfulness led to a decrease in prosocial behaviour.

Next, 325 participants were encouraged to engage in a brief exercise that tends to make people think of themselves in independent or interdependent terms.

Participants were asked afterwards if they would like to volunteer to help raise money for a charitable organisation, with only 40 per cent of the group offering up their time to help.

The results suggest that pairing mindfulness with instructions explaining how to make people think of themselves in terms of their relationships and communities may enable them to see positive personal and social outcomes.

"We have to think about how to get the most out of mindfulness," Poulin said. "We have to know how to use the tool."