What is it about?
Engaging in 8-15 minutes of mindfulness meditation, by focusing on the physical sensations of breathing, reduces how much guilt people feel. As a result, mindfulness meditation also reduces how much people make amends with others who they have harmed. However, loving kindness meditation, in which people envision sending well wishes towards other people, led to a higher desire to make amends. This was because loving kindness meditation makes people focus on other people (vs. focused breathing cuing focus on oneself) and increases feelings of love.
Photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash
Why is it important?
People seem to assume that the tendency for mindfulness meditation to reduce negative emotions is a good thing. However, there are many situations in which negative emotions provide useful information that we should listen to and learn from, such as when guilt makes us feel like we need to make amends with someone we have harmed. Normally, the act of apologizing or paying back the person we harmed is what reduces our guilt. But if we 'artificially' reduce that guilt by meditating it away, we may end up with worse relationships, or even fewer relationships. In general, our research cautions people against avoiding all negative emotions or thoughts. While some have viewed it as a panacea, mindfulness meditation is a specific practice with specific psychological effects. It draws attention to the present moment and away from stressful things in the past and future, reduces negative emotions, and induces calmness. For better or worse, focused breathing mindfulness meditation draws people’s focus inward to their own physical sensations and experiences, and away from other people. Even if people do so unintentionally, cultivating mindfulness can distract people from their own transgressions and interpersonal obligations, as well as occasionally relax one’s moral compass. We also suggest a solution in switching to loving kindness meditation because it can make people feel less bad and focus on the present moment, without having the risk of reducing the desire to repair relationships.
Read the Original
This page is a summary of: Mindfulness meditation reduces guilt and prosocial reparation., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000298.
You can read the full text:
Got guilt? Mindfulness meditation can ease a remorseful conscience—at the cost of making amends
UW Foster Business Magazine article about this research
Andrew Hafenbrack's personal website with related projects and downloadable papers.
Helping people by being in the present
Related research on how mindfulness can increase prosocial behavior, due to empathy and perspective-taking
TED-like presentation that contextualizes this project in the rest of my research stream
This is a video of a presentation I gave at the UW Foster Insights event in May 2022. It provides advice on what you could learn from my research stream on mindfulness and apply to your life.
The following have contributed to this page