Does Mindfulness Decrease Feelings of Guilt?

How your practice could impact making amends, a review of mindfulness-based interventions, and other new mindfulness research.

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Researchers at Yale and the University of Washington explored how a person’s state of mind while meditating, and their social context, might affect their behavior toward others. In one study, individuals were asked to recall and write about a situation when they felt guilty. Half were then asked to mindfully focus on their breath; others were told to let their minds wander. Afterwards, they completed a survey assessing their feelings of guilt, then were asked to imagine they’d been given $100 and estimate how much they’d donate to the person they had wronged. Those who’d done the mindfulness exercise reported less remorse and, on average, were willing to donate nearly 20% less than those who’d let their minds wander. 

In another experiment, participants were divided into three groups. One group practiced mindful breathing, the second let their minds wander, and the third browsed the internet. They were all then asked to write an apology letter to someone they’d wronged. Letters were rated by two independent evaluators on whether the individuals took responsibility for their actions, and Research gathered from University of Washington, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and others. if they offered to make up for their wrongdoing. Mindfulness group members offered less sincere apologies than those in the control groups, suggesting that practicing mindful breathing was linked to diminished feelings of guilt and less willingness to patch things up. 

Those who’d listened to a loving-kindness meditation were more likely than the others to want to make amends. 

There was one notable exception: In a similar experiment, individuals were assigned to a breathing group, a lovingkindness meditation group, or a control condition. This time, those who’d listened to a loving-kindness meditation were more likely than the others to want to make amends. This suggests that the effects of mindfulness on prosocial behavior may depend on the type of meditation practiced.

Teaching the Teachers

Researchers in Brazil randomly assigned 76 public school teachers with no history of meditation to either an 8-week mindfulness-based health program or an 8-week applied neuroscience course for educators. Each group met weekly and had 10-30 minutes of daily “homework.” The mindfulness group practiced breath awareness, loving-kindness, self-compassion, compassionate communication, mindful listening, walking meditation, and a body scan. The neuroscience group learned about nervous system development and biology, neuroplasticity, and the biology of memory and emotion. Before and after training all participants completed questionnaires about their levels of stress, quality of life, mood, and resilience. They also provided blood samples to assess their physiological stress and metabolic activity. 

A mindfulness-based intervention may reduce public school teachers’ perceived stress, improve well-being, and lessen inflammation.

At study’s end, the mindfulness group’s quality of life and resilience increased significantly, and perceived stress and negative emotion decreased significantly compared to the control group. Mindfulness group members also showed decreases in several pro-inflammatory markers, and increased antioxidant activity. This suggests that a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) may reduce teachers’ perceived stress, improve wellbeing, and lessen inflammation and oxidative stress.

Understanding MBIS 

University of Wisconsin at Madison and Brown University researchers conducted a systematic review of 44 meta-analyses of 336 randomized controlled trials of MBIs with more than 30,000 participants. The result? In many cases, MBIs can reduce symptoms for a variety of conditions better than no treatment. Compared to other therapies, mindfulness practices offer some benefit, but more research is needed to understand what works, for whom, and for which conditions MBIs are most effective.

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