Author Topic: 8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate  (Read 4415 times)


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8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate
« on: February 08, 2014, 07:14:52 AM »
What a wonderful world it would be if people could generate a little more compassion for each other.  Read what a psychologist has to say about the effects of being compassionate:

The power of compassion is stronger than empathy because it is about imagining the suffering of others at a deeper level; consequently it is more likely to motivate action.

And compassion isn’t just beneficial for the person being helped–nurturing compassion has some remarkable psychological effects on the self.

Here are eight psychology studies which show the effects of exercising your humanity.

1. Compassion can be learned

Compassion is not something you either have or you don’t–it can (and should) be learned and nurtured.

That’s been demonstrated by Weng et al. (2013) who gave participants a one-day course in loving kindness meditation.

This helps foster benevolent and loving feelings towards the self and others.

After the training, people felt better in themselves, were more compassionate towards others and there was more activation in the areas of the brain associated with love, affiliation and positive emotion.

This was true even when they were shown videos of people in distress which previously had caused negative emotions.

The lead author of the study, Helen Weng said:

“It’s kind of like weight training. Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

2. Compassion motivates action

It’s all very well feeling more compassionate, but it’s not much use if you don’t do anything about it.

Compassion, though, can be a powerful motivating force.

In one study participants who had been meditating were given an undercover test of their compassion (Condon et al., 2013).

They were sat in a staged waiting area with two actors when another actor entered on crutches, pretending to be in great pain. The two actors sat next to the participants both ignored the person who was in pain, sending the unconscious signal not to intervene.

Those who had been meditating, though, were 50% more likely to help the person in pain than a control group who had not been meditating.

One of the study’s authors, David DeSteno, said:

“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.”

3. Happier and healthier

Along with being beneficial to others, experiencing more compassion benefits your own psychological and physical health.

A study by Fredrickson et al. (2008) had participants direct their loving compassion towards themselves over a week, then in the next week towards their loved ones.

The researchers found that those participants who had been randomly assigned to meditate compassionately showed increased levels of daily happiness compared with a control group.

Not only this, but those meditating compassionately also experienced less depression, had higher satisfaction with life and were in better physical shape.

4. Boost immune response

The power of compassion also reaches into the body’s immune and stress response systems.

Pace et al. (2009) found that participants who’d been doing more compassionate meditation had stronger immune responses to a stressor, as measured physiologically by interleukin and cortisol levels.

5. Empathic neural response

Neuroscientists have found that increased loving compassion can be measured in the living brain.

In a study by Lutz et al. (2008), expert and novice meditators generated a mental state of loving-kindness-compassion while their brains were scanned.

At certain points while participants were in the brain scanner the experimenters fed in sounds of distress.

While the participants were concentrating on being compassionate, the brain regions responsible for the processing of emotions were enhanced, compared with when they were at rest.

In addition, the areas associated with empathy and understanding other people’s minds were also more active.

6. Increased empathy

Since compassionate thought boosts activity in the empathic centers of the brain, it also boosts empathic accuracy.

Mascaro et al., (2013) gave participants a test of empathy called the ‘Mind in the Eyes Test’ which involves guessing emotions from only a pair of eyes.

Th0se who’d completed a short course on compassion did better on the test, showing that their empathic accuracy was enhanced.

7. More helpful

In a study by Leiberg et al. (2011), participants played a game called the Zurich Prosocial Game (ZPG).

This tests whether they reciprocate, whether they respond when others are in distress and assesses the costs of helping.

Beforehand some participants had been given short-term compassion training. Their test results were compared with a control group who had received memory training.

The compassion training group demonstrated more prosocial behaviour–in other words they were more helpful towards others.

8. Less afraid of suffering

The pain of others is distressing and it’s a natural reaction to avoid people in pain.

But being more compassionate can change this, causing negative avoiding emotions to be replaced with positive compassionate emotions.

That’s what Klimecki et al. (2013) found when they gave participants compassion training and then exposed them to a video about people in distress.

After the training people responded neurally with more love, affiliation and positive emotions to suffering.

Practice compassion

All of these studies show that the following quote from the Dalai Lama couldn’t be more true:

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Tenzin K

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Re: 8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2014, 05:29:01 PM »
Decades of clinical research has focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering. That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often also has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: compassion. Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it. What led 26.5 percent of Americans to volunteer in 2012 (according to statistics from the US Department of Labor)? What propels someone to serve food at a homeless shelter, pull over on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken down vehicle, or feed a stray cat?

What is compassion and how is it different from empathy or altruism? The definition of compassion is often confused with that of empathy. Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the visceral or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness. Altruism is an action that benefits someone else. It may or may not be accompanied by empathy or compassion, for example in the case of making a donation for tax purposes. Although these terms are related to compassion, they are not identical. Compassion often does, of course, involve an empathic response and an altruistic behavior. However, compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being. Research by APS William James Fellow Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving. A brain-imaging study headed by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain, i.e., the parts of the brain that are active when we experience pleasure (like dessert, money, and sex), are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves! Giving to others even increases well-being above and beyond what we experience when we spend money on ourselves. In a revealing experiment by Elizabeth Dunn, at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves; the other half was told to spend the money on others. At the end of the study,  which was published in the academic journal Science, participants who had spent money on others felt significantly happier than those who had spent money on themselves.

This is true even for infants. A study by Lara Aknin and colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increases the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves. Even more surprisingly, the fact that giving makes us happier than receiving is true across the world, regardless of whether countries are rich or poor. A new study by Aknin, now at Simon Fraser University, shows that the amount of money spent on others (rather than for personal benefit) and personal well-being were highly correlated, regardless of income, social support, perceived freedom, and perceived national corruption.