Thirty-nine participants were recruited for the experiment. Twenty participants took part in an eight-week meditation course, and the other 19 told they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.
Desteno describes the scenario both groups were put through, to test their response to suffering:
When a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room—who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us—ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?
Desteno calls the results “striking”: 16 percent of nonmeditators gave up their seats, and the proportion rose to 50 percent…