Empathy, Compassionate Altruism and Psychological Well-Being in Contemplative Practitioners across Five Traditions


In an online anonymous study we compared 2409 contemplative practitioners to 450 non-meditators on measures of psychological functioning. The meditators followed five traditions: Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism, Centering Prayer, Yoga and Mindfulness. Meditators were lower in depression, neuroticism, empathic distress, and types of empathy-based guilt, and higher in empathy (cognitive and emotional), agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, resilience, and compassionate altruism towards strangers. Comparing traditions found Tibetans and Centering Prayer higher in altruism towards strangers and Centering Prayer lower in neuroticism. In all traditions, intensity and duration of practice predicted positive outcomes. Meditators whose goal was benefit to others, compared to those whose goal was benefit to the self, were lower in depression, empathic distress, and neuroticism, and higher in cognitive empathy, resilience, and altruism towards strangers. Religion-based practitioners were lower in guilt, empathic distress, depression and neuroticism, and higher in conscientiousness, resilience, and altruism towards others compared secular meditators.

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O’Connor, L. , Rangan, R. , Berry, J. , Stiver, D. , Hanson, R. , Ark, W. and Li, T. (2015) Empathy, Compassionate Altruism and Psychological Well-Being in Contemplative Practitioners across Five Traditions. Psychology, 6, 989-1000. doi: 10.4236/psych.2015.68096.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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