Research reveals gap in mindfulness meditation

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovers an unusual side effect of mindfulness meditation: a marked reduction in guilt and a decreased motivation to make amends.

“I was interested in doing this research because after I started studying meditation and meditating myself, I noticed that I was using it almost by default to react to stressors,” says psychologist Andrew Hafenbrack from the University of Washington, Seattle. “Sometimes that meant I was meditating or focusing on my breathing in situations where there was in fact a significant problem and it would have been better if I confronted it directly and immediately.”

Across eight studies, Hafenbrack and his team asked participants to imagine they had hurt people they cared about, or to recall a time when they had really hurt someone they cared about. was expensive in the past, followed by a 10 minute meditation session.

The studies found that this short period of meditation reduced people’s feelings of guilt, and this reduction in guilt explained why people who meditated felt less motivated to repay people they had harmed, compared to participants. to the control condition (i.e. those who did). not participate in the 10-minute meditation session).

“I think it’s important for people to know that Focused Breathing Meditation gets people to focus on their own body and mind, and in isolation which can lead to low levels of focus on others, especially with regard to other people who are not physically present,” Hafenbrack points out.

To compensate for this blind spot created by mindfulness meditation, Hafenbrack suggests that one also practice ‘benevolent’ meditation or ‘metta’ meditation, which focuses on visualizing other people in one’s mind and sending happy and healthy wishes.

According to Hafenbrack, loving kindness is an underrated form of meditation that puts people into a state of mindfulness. It is effective in increasing positive emotions without removing excessive attention from oneself.

“This meditation led to higher levels of motivation to repay people who were harmed compared to focused breathing meditation,” says Hafenbrack. “We found this was because loving-kindness meditation led to a higher level of focus on others and higher momentary feelings of love.”

The fundamental difference between mindfulness meditation and loving kindness meditation is their primary focus: self or others. Hafenbrack explains that mindfulness is centered on:

  1. The present (not the past or the future)
  2. Calm (low energy)
  3. Non-negative emotions (neutral or positive)
  4. Attention to self (reduces attention to others who are not present)

Therefore, it is unlikely to help – and may even backfire – in situations and for tasks that require focusing on the past or future, high energy, negative emotions and thoughts about other people who are not physically present.

Hafenbrack hopes his research will serve as a warning that while there are many real and known benefits of focused breathing meditation, people can, even unwittingly, use it to avoid certain things that they would be better off facing directly. such as by artificially clearing their conscience after a wrongdoing.

“I hope this research will make people realize that the intention they bring to meditation is important,” he says. “I also hope that this article and my other research will help people think of a psychological state of mindfulness for what it is and does rather than as a vague panacea.”

A full interview with Andrew Hafenbrack discussing this new research can be found here: Beware of this unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation

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