Can Meditation Make Us More Compassionate?

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Meditating may encourage us to care more for those around us. (Matt Dunham/AP)
Meditating may encourage us to care more for those around us. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Meditation is getting more and more popular as a tool to make us smarter, stronger, and more productive. It's been called the new rage among tech firms like Google and Facebook which offer their employees classes in meditation and mindfulness.

There is a lot of scientific research about all the practical benefits of meditation, from higher scores on standardized tests to increased creativity in the workplace. But if you look back to the origins of meditation, the practice wasn't about individual gain at all. Ancient Buddhist meditation was about seeing the world in a more compassionate way, and thus making it a better place.

Whether meditation can in fact make the world a better place is just the question being put to the test at a Northeastern University Lab called the Social Emotions Group, run by psychologist David DeSteno. He and his team recently conducted a study that showed a strong link between meditation and compassionate responses to suffering.


David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University, and director of the Social Emotions Group.

Gaelle Desbordes, neuroscientist and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University.


The New York Times: "Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another. But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?"

This segment aired on July 12, 2013.


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