People naturally tend to empathize with others, report C. Daryl Cameron and Barbara Fredrickson in the January issue of the journal Mindfulness. But empathy can go wrong when it leads to distress. We might help out of guilt, or the help might cause resentment, which could lead us to avoid helping people in the future. Or sometimes, absorbing the feelings of someone in trouble may lead us to turn away, if we can’t deal with those feelings of suffering.

There’s another response: compassion, which leads people to try to alleviate distress in others.

As the authors speculate, “Helping should be most common among people who are able to maximize compassion while minimizing distress.” Previous research has found that cultivating mindfulness—the moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings—can lead to greater compassion. But what specific components of mindfulness predict real-world helping behavior? In other words, what skills could we develop that would make us more likely to help each other out?

The study examined two mindful traits—a focus on the present moment (aka, “present-focused attention”) and a non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts and experiences (“non-judgmental acceptance”). Cameron and Fredrickson assessed the mindfulness of 313 adults, asking if, for example, they “pay attention to how my emotions affect my thoughts and behaviors” or often criticize themselves “for having irrational or inappropriate emotions.”

Next, the survey asked if they had recently helped someone out. If they had, participants answered questions about how they felt while helping. Did they feel positive emotions like gratitude, hopefulness, inspiration, or joy? Or did they have negative ones, like irritation, contempt, disgust, distaste, guilt, or nervousness?

In analyzing the answers, the researchers found that 85 percent of participants had engaged in some kind of helping behavior during the previous week, like listening to a friend’s problems, babysitting, giving someone a car ride, donating to charity, or volunteering. In the process, they uncovered some incidental but interesting facts:
•men were marginally less likely than women to report engaging in helping behavior;
•age did not predict helping; and
•participants with higher income were more likely to report helping others.

But the biggest predictor of helping behavior had nothing to do with these demographic traits. In fact, the researchers confirmed their hypothesis: Present-focused attention and non-judgmental acceptance both predicted more helping behavior. This link between mindfulness and helping might be traced to the fact that the mindful participants were more likely to experience emotions like compassion, joy, or elevation while giving help. That could mean that they just felt better when helping others, which could lead them to engage in more helping behavior in general.


Publicado por: Mariaelena Alvarado