Washington: Meditation is not only good for the body and mind; it also makes you more compassionate and willing to help others even when the norm is not to do so, according to a new study.
Scientists have mostly focused on the benefits of meditation for the brain and the body, but the new study by researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University looked at the impact meditation has on interpersonal harmony and compassion.
Researchers examined the effects meditation would have on compassion and virtuous behaviour.
The study invited participants to complete eight-week trainings in two types of meditation. After the sessions, they were put to the test.
Sitting in a staged waiting room with three chairs were two actors. With one empty chair left, the participant sat down and waited to be called. Another actor using crutches and appearing to be in great physical pain, would then enter the room.
As she did, the actors in the chair would ignore her by fiddling with their phones or opening a book.
The question researchers David DeSteno and Paul Condon who led the study wanted to answer was whether the subjects who took part in the meditation classes would be more likely to come to the aid of the person in pain, even in the face of everyone else ignoring her.
"We know meditation improves a person`s own physical and psychological wellbeing. We wanted to know whether it actually increases compassionate behaviour," said Condon.
Among the non-meditating participants, only about 15 per cent of people acted to help. But among the participants who were in the meditation sessions "we were able to boost that up to 50 per cent," said DeSteno.
This result was true for both meditation groups thereby showing the effect to be consistent across different forms of meditation.
"The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous - to help another who was suffering - even in the face of a norm not to do so," DeSteno said.
"The fact that the other actors were ignoring the pain creates as `bystander-effect` that normally tends to reduce helping. People often wonder `Why should I help someone if no one else is?" DeSteno said.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.