Empathy May Grow From Within

Let’s face it: not everyone is a meditation person. Whether it’s the humming or the weird hand positions, the mantra or the mats, some people just don’t like the idea of meditation. Even if this is the case for you, recent studies have shown that activities like meditation are extremely helpful to people. Not only do they have a calming effect, but taking a moment out of your day to center yourself actually helps you be a more empathetic person.

This study, which was published in Cortex and New Scientist, started with asking participants to internally count their heartbeats without touching their bodies (like their wrists or necks). After doing this for a short (but quiet) moment of time, the scientists showed participants videos of people talking together, and then filled out questionnaires about those conversations. It turns out that the people who were good at measuring their own heartbeats, in other words, people who are good at introspection, were better at reading the emotions of the people they saw in those videos.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that introspection is tied to reading things like intent, which aren’t directly linked to emotion. This is by no means concrete evidence that empathy is linked to someone’s ability in introspection, but it is a good correlation. Co-author (and psychologist at Oxford) Geoff Bird said, “It’s not yet been shown whether training your interoception also improves your empathy, but it’s an experiment we’d like to try.” And while that might be a long time coming – because by their very nature, experiments take a great deal of time – in the meantime you can practice closing your eyes, calming your mind, and counting your heartbeats. Who knows, it might make you more understanding of your fellow man!