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E34: What if Donald Trump Practiced Mindfulness? Yep, We're Going There!

Understanding the connection between mindfulness and empathy.

Experts believe if we practice mindfulness, our empathy will improve because research shows when experienced meditators practice mindfulness, they activate the areas of the brain that are activated when we experience empathy. These areas are the prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the anterior insula. However, when we get stressed, it's more difficult for us to have empathy because empathy depends on higher functioning abilities in our brains.

Empathy requires a high level of processing in our brain and when we get stressed, we're pulled out of the areas of our brain that do high-level processing, and we move into the lower and more primal levels of our brain. Therefore reducing stress is important to our ability to be empathetic. Again, manfulness can really help!

“Does mindfulness meditation increase empathy? An experiment”

Self and Identity 2017

Mindfulness backfires when practiced by people with narcissistic traits.

A study shows, people who do not have narcissistic attributes are more empathetic after they practice mindfulness than before practicing. While people who have narcissistic attributes are 15% less empathetic after mindfulness than before practicing. The researchers redid the trial. They were like, what? It was completely unexpected because the study was created to see if mindfulness could improve empathy in people with narcissistic characteristics. They redid the trial with different people and got the same results.

My guess is, while those with narcissistic attributes practiced mindfulness, focusing on their breathing (as described by the study) they were drawn into themselves, paying closer attention to their “self”. Which is ironic because mindfulness is known to helps us release us from our sense of “self”. Therefore the mindfulness practice acted as a hurdle for them to get outside of themself and be empathetic afterwards.

Whereas those who did not have narcissistic attributes and practiced mindfulness, focusing on their breath, they used the practice to quiet the chatter and distraction in their heads, which allowed them to be more empathetic afterwards.

“Does mindfulness meditation increase empathy? An experiment”

Self and Identity 2017

Listen to more on “The Aware Mind” podcast.

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