M4S3 Relationships, Mindfulness, and Research

Module 4 Session 3: Relationships, Mindfulness, and Research

March 5, 2019

I had attempted to open with a meditation guided by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the foremost secular mindfulness teachers and researchers but we had some technical difficulty! So instead, I’m linking to a meditation by him here!

After our opening meditation we shared the ups and downs of our attempts at regular daily practice. A lot of people shared that they’re feeling good about their informal practices. That is wonderful! I would encourage you to still keep the goal of formal practice as well. Just as in ballet there is no substitute for plies at the barre, in mindfulness, many people consider seated practice to be the foundational practice of mindfulness. And if not seated, at least formal in another sense (a truly mindful walk for example, is a different speed than a casual walk “with mindfulness”).

This week we touched briefly once again on the practice of NVC, as a theme that links the sessions of our relationship module.

Discussion—what does the research tell us about using mindfulness to improve relational skills? We will look primarily at the relational skill prosocial behavior. “The term prosocial behavior means positive actions that benefit others, prompted by empathy, moral values, and a sense of personal responsibility rather than a desire for personal gain.” (Kidron & Fleichman, 2006; citation)

We discussed the main findings from the following three research articles. I’ve provided a more in-depth sharing of their findings here, much of which is excerpted straight from the original material.

Donald et al 2018 Does your mindfulness help others?

Meta analysis of mindfulness and prosocial behavior. N=31 studies.

meta -analysis confirms hypotheses:

Mindfulness as a trait increased prosocial behaviors.

  • By having a non-judgementally aware disposition towards one’s experience, individuals are more likely to respond to the needs of others in helpful ways. Preliminary mediation analysis indicates that this may happen via increases in empathic concern, emotion regulation, and positive affect

Trait mindfulness increases both self-reported prosocial behaviors and other-reported.

  • Prosocial behaviors towards known others were strengthened, but not towards unknown others (making the natural human tendency to help kin stronger)

Mindfulness was most strongly linked to prosociality among adults as compared to emerging adults and adolescents.

  • This finding is consistent with the idea that perspective-taking ability develops with age and is more advanced among adults than children (Kegan, 1982). However, it is notable that the mindfulness–prosociality link was positive for all age categories.

Mindfulness as an intervention increases prosocial behaviors.

  • Exercises that specifically focus on prosocial behaviors didn’t have better outcomes than general mindfulness exercises. Evidence to-date suggests that these effects may occur via greater empathic concern (compassion), emotion regulation, and positive affect. Mindfulness interventions did not show differences in effect sizes between known and unknown recipients of helping behaviour. There is experimental evidence elsewhere that mindfulness practice. Why do you think mindfulness as a trait would not have benefits for prosociality towards unknown others, while mindfulness practices WOULD lead to prosociality towards unknown others? Authors hypothesize  these experimental effects are for measures that immediately followed mindfulness meditation. It may be, therefore, that the effects of mindfulness meditation on intergroup biases are relatively short-lived, explaining why they are not reflected across studies of trait mindfulness and prosociality.

Length of the intervention doesn’t appear to matter!

  • We did not find evidence that variables relating to study design, namely intervention intensity, type of control used, or randomization, moderated intervention effects. The results regarding intervention intensity are surprising, as they suggest that relatively brief interventions (i.e., <1 hr in duration) have similar-sized effects on prosociality as multisession interventions lasting between 1 and 10 hours, up to a 1-month intensive retreat

Limitations and Future Directions:
One limitation is that for nearly all studies included in this review, there was no evidence provided that the sample was representative of the broader population from which the sample was drawn...There was substantial diversity in the mindfulness interventions included in this review. This diversity limits the inferences that can be drawn from the pooled effects reported here. This review was not able to resolve the extent to which high levels of mindfulness, versus increases in mindfulness, lead to more prosocial behaviour.

It may be that changes in mindfulness, rather than high levels of mindfulness lead to prosocial outcomes. For example, increases in nonjudgemental awareness may signal safety and the likelihood of social reward, which leads to prosocial behaviour – similar to findings from studies of positive mood

The second article we discussed was about Promoting Adolescents’ Prosocial Behavior

There is much more research on reducing anti social behavior, but less on prosocial behavior. Implementing these changes below takes a large investment of time and money and should only be undertaken (and will only work!) if educators WANT to take part in these changes.

Research suggests that the following three schoolwide approaches can promote pro-social behavior in schools.

Train teachers to integrate values instruction into classroom management.

  • Class decision-making

  • cooperative/group tasks and assignments.

Foster a caring community throughout the school.  

  • Role of ALL adults involved with school in modeling this.

  • Pairing students as buddies.

Use positive discipline practices.  

  • clear expectations, discussions, and modeling

  • No threats, punishments, etc.

  • positive behavior interventions

The third article we talked about was Jennings and Greenberg, 2011

This article proposes a model of the prosocial classroom that highlights teachers’ own social and emotional competence (SEC) and well-being. These factors contribute to the desired outcome (of prosocial classrooms) by creating a classroom climate that is more conducive to learning.

A teacher who recognizes an individual student’s emotions, understands the cognitive appraisals that may be associated with these emotions, and how these cognitions and emotions motivate the student’s behavior can effectively respond to the student’s individual needs. Also, teachers higher in SEC are likely to demonstrate more effective classroom management; they are likely to be more proactive, skillfully using their emotional expressions and verbal support to promote enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning and to guide and manage student behaviors. Third, we propose that teachers with higher SEC will implement social and emotional curriculum more effectively because they are outstanding role models of desired social and emotional behavior. Finally, we recognize that various contextual factors, inside and outside the school building, may influence teachers’ SEC.

So what does this all mean for us, in B-COME? Thoughts about what to do or not do, what to expect or not expect, when sharing mindfulness with your students?

Our closing practice for today was meditating with the mantra: “may all beings be safe and loved”

Your invitations this week:

Informal practice --three times during your day, find someone say to yourself “just like me, ___wants to be safe and loved”

Formal practice- a daily five minute seated meditation practice saying to yourself “may all beings be safe and loved”

may all being be safe happy loved.jpeg

It would be more beneficial to set your timer short of 5 minutes (i won’t know!) than to skip the practice on some days, or do it while walking, etc. Maintaining the disciplined aspect of seated meditation, in a format that doesn’t require a guide or audio teacher, may have different benefits than other practices. At the very least, it’s important for us to become familiar with because it’s HARD and we ask our students to do hard things all the time :) It’s one of the main things (not the only thing!) i would like each of you to have a close personal experience with by the end of this program. It doesn’t mean that I expect you will love it or even that it will necessarily get easier, but you should be able to talk about what a SUSTAINED attempt at a disciplined daily formal meditation practice was like for you.