Inspired living

Can mindfulness really make us compassionate?

woman meditating in lotus pose.


Mindfulness meditation has gained immense popularity over the years as a faith-free method of inducing significant positive changes not only on a personal level but collectively on society as well.

There have been many claims and scientific literature on the benefits of meditation which have focussed on individual psychological and physical effects. However, there is an interest in understanding how meditation can affect prosocial behaviour – voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another.

Initially, mindfulness made people feel slightly more compassionate and empathic, compared to if they had not participated in any emotionally-engaging intervention.

Scientists from Coventry University in the UK, Massey University in New Zealand, and Radboud University in the Netherlands wanted to see if meditation made us less aggressive and more compassionate. As a result, they reviewed 20 studies which included only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated the effects of all types of mindfulness on prosociality.

The earliest study was published in 2004 but over 71 percent of the studies were from 2010–2015, which indicates a growing interest in understanding the prosocial effects of meditation.

The techniques most commonly used were mindfulness-based interventions, Loving Kindness Meditation and Compassion Meditation.

The length of the interventions ranged from three minutes to a three-month meditation retreat. 39 percent of the studies lasted for eight weeks.

The initial analysis showed that meditation did have a positive effect on prosociality.

However, further analysis revealed that mindfulness did not play a significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving the social connectivity of the person.

Initially, mindfulness made people feel slightly more compassionate and empathic, compared to if they had not participated in any emotionally-engaging intervention.

The researchers found a methodological flaw in the positive levels of compassion – that compassion only increased if the teacher was an author of the published report.

Most of the initial positive results disappeared when meditation groups were compared to other groups that engaged in tasks unrelated to meditation.

The analysis revealed the methodological shortcomings of the studies and perhaps the unintentional bias of the earlier researchers have greatly influenced what they found in this analysis.

The analysis suggests that mindfulness meditation is likely to have a positive, but still relatively limited effect in making people feel or act in a more socially connected, or less aggressive and prejudiced way.

This does not take away from the claims about the life-changing potential of meditation practices and beliefs but to truly understand the impact of meditation on people’s feelings and behaviour, further research must address the methodological weaknesses uncovered in the analysis.

In the end, meditation helps with stress levels, leaving you feeling happier and more positive.  Hopefully, over time a stress-free you can find more compassion for others which contributes to a better society to live in.

Source: Scientific Reports


Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!