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05-03-2018 | ORIGINAL PAPER

Incorporating Ethics Into Brief Mindfulness Practice: Effects on Well-Being and Prosocial Behavior

Siyin Chen, Christian H. Jordan
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s12671-018-0915-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Mainstream mindfulness programs, as in first-generation mindfulness-based interventions, generally do not incorporate Buddhist ethics, causing some scholars to worry that they may encourage self-indulgence and have limited capacity to promote well-being. We compare the effects of practicing mindfulness with additional ethical instruction (EthicalM) or without such instruction (SecularM) on well-being and prosocial behavior. Participants (N = 621) completed 6 days of ethical or secular mindfulness exercises or active control exercises. Secular and ethical mindfulness both reduced stress (EthicalM: p = 0.011, d = − 0.25; SecularM: p = 0.005, d = − 0.28) and increased life satisfaction (EthicalM: p = 0.008, d = 0.26; SecularM: p = 0.069, d = 0.18) and self-awareness (EthicalM: p = 0.011, d = 0.25; SecularM: p = 0.051, d = 0.19). Ethical mindfulness also enhanced personal growth (p = 0.032, d = 0.21). Ethical, relative to secular, mindfulness also increased prosocial behavior—money donated to a charity (p = 0.020, d = 0.24). This effect was moderated by trait empathy: Trait empathy predicted donation amounts for participants who had completed mindfulness exercises (ethical or secular) but not controls. Furthermore, low trait empathy participants gave significantly less money following secular mindfulness practice than control exercises, whereas high trait empathy participants gave more money following ethical mindfulness practice than control exercises. Mindfulness training may thus have unintended consequences, making some people less charitable, though incorporating instruction on ethics, as in some second-generation mindfulness-based interventions, may forestall such effects.

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