Research suggests meditation may increase empathy and emotional engagement. Whilst this may be beneficial in professions where empathy results in greater effectiveness (e.g. psychotherapy), emotional engagement may also produce emotional burnout. This study aims to determine whether mindfulness and/or compassion meditation can prime empathy prior to connecting with another’s emotions, and facilitate emotional stability afterwards.
University students (N = 156) listened to recordings of compassion meditation, mindfulness meditation or a control, then watched videos depicting sadness, happiness or anxiety, then listened to compassion, mindfulness or control recordings again. This produced five groups: Compassion-compassion (i.e. compassion meditation before and after videos), mindfulness-mindfulness, mindfulness-compassion, compassion-mindfulness and a control. State emotions and empathy were assessed throughout.
Compassion and mindfulness meditation resulted in greater empathy than the control (p = .03). Prior to watching videos, mindfulness meditation produced greater sadness and anxiety, and compassion meditation produced greater sadness and happiness (p = .001). After watching videos, happiness was greater in the mindfulness-mindfulness and compassion-compassion condition (p = .03).
Both types of meditation resulted in greater self-reported distressing emotions prior to videos (and happiness in compassion condition), and empathy during presentation compared to the control. Afterwards, there was an increase in positive emotions in the compassion-compassion and mindfulness-mindfulness conditions. This indicates that meditation may allow for individuals to process emotional content in a way that is conducive to wellbeing. Whilst compassion meditation is often combined with mindfulness, these results suggest using a consistent approach of either mindfulness or compassion is most beneficial to wellbeing.