Mindfulness is said to do many things for our psyche: it can increase our self-control, sharpen our concentration, extend our working memory and boost our mental flexibility. With practice, we should become less emotionally reactive – allowing us to deal with our problems more calmly.
One ‘benefit’ that you might not expect to gain, however, is heightened egotism. Yet a recent study suggests that, in some contexts, practicing mindfulness really can exaggerate some people’s selfish tendencies. With their increased inward focus, they seem to forget about others, and are less willing to help those in need.
This finding, alone, should not be a cause for you to cease meditating, if you do find it useful in other ways. But it adds to a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness training can have undesirable side effects as well as potential benefits – and many psychologists now believe that the potentially negative consequences of certain meditative practices should be advertised alongside the hype.
The study comes from Michael Poulin, an associate professor in psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who wanted to investigate whether the effects of mindfulness might depend on its cultural context and the existing values of the people who are practicing it.