Mindfulness meditation reduces guilt and the tendency to make amends

March 8, 2022
Mindfulness meditation reduces guilt and the tendency to make amends

When researchers from the University of Washington’s (UW) Foster School of Business sought to understand how mindfulness meditation reduces negative emotions, like anger and guilt, they found that mindfulness does reduce feelings of guilt. “Negative emotions may not be pleasant, but they can help us navigate social situations and maintain relationships,” said Andrew Hafenbrack, an assistant professor in the UW Foster School.

Studies define mindfulness meditation as a stress-management practice that cultivates nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, often by directing attention to the physical sensations of breathing. Said to have ancient lineage, a modern and secular version of mindfulness meditation practice, however, may have an unanticipated downside.

“Meditating can reduce feelings of guilt, [and also] limit reactions like generosity that are important to human relationships,” Hafenbrack said. Experiments established that mindfulness meditation reduces the tendency to make amends for harming others.

UW researchers had recruited over 1,400 adult participants (online and in-person) from the US and Portugal who were part of eight experiments that would test whether mindfulness meditation would influence prosocial reparative behaviours. In one experiment, participants who listened to a mindfulness recording were reported to feel less guilt about a past situation, compared to a control group. In another experiment, participants who had meditated were seen to allocate approximately 17% less money for a hypothetical birthday gift to the person they had wronged, compared to those who had not meditated.

“This research serves as a caution to people who might be tempted to use mindfulness meditation to reduce emotions that are unpleasant, but necessary to support moral thoughts and behaviour,” said Isabelle Solal, an assistant professor at ESSEC Business School in Cergy-Pointoise, France.

The research additionally suggests that loving kindness meditation, which consists of imagery exercises where one evokes well wishes for others, may allow people to have the stress-reduction benefits of meditation without the cost of reducing repair. Participants of the eighth and final experiment reported higher intentions to contact, apologise to, and make up with people they had harmed compared to participants in the mindfulness meditation (focused breathing meditation) group. The difference was explained by participants’ increased focus on others and feelings of love.

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Category: Education, Features

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