Science of Mindfulness Part 7: Social Applications Of Mindfulness

Does mindfulness cause sustainability? How does it affect the workplace and the political system? And how do contemplative meditation techniques fit into social applicability? This last article of our seven-part blog series explores the current knowledge of social mindfulness applications.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

In our seventh and last article of this blog series, we take a look at research on social applications of mindfulness. Several leading scholars weigh in with studies on mindfulness in schools, the workplace, and politics to understand how mindfulness makes us more kind and compassionate citizens in the world.

This blog series breaks down the special mindfulness issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, a large project of more than 100 leading mindfulness scholars. Learn about the background of this immense collaboration to present where the science of mindfulness is at. We also recommend reading Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 of the series.

Find the bibliography at the end of this article.

The Social Application And Integration Of Mindfulness Techniques

Does Mindfulness Lead To A More Sustainable Lifestyle?

When looking at mindfulness, have we given awareness too much credit? The first two papers under the chapter ‘social applications’ question the evidence behind mindfulness’ impact in the world and the workplace.

Sonja Geiger, Paul Grossman and Ulf Schrader explore the relationship between mindfulness and sustainable consumption. While studies point to an existing relationship, the team questions whether it’s one of cause or correlation.

Although mindfulness-based approaches have been suggested as a remedy for an increasingly unsustainable consumption level in early industrialized countries, empirical evidence on the utility of mindfulness-based interventions to promote sustainable lifestyles is still lacking. The author’s own study equally failed to show a definitive relationship of direct cause. Nevertheless, the authors suggest several pathways by which mindfulness could lead to sustainable consumption, including the indirect effects of mindfulness observed in their studies, such as the promotion of subjective well-being and a decline of materialistic values. These findings are encouraging and warrant future research on the topic.

Mindfulness In The Workplace

Silke Rupprecht and her co-authors ask for more robust evidence supporting the effect of mindfulness training in the workplace. Although mindfulness does increase resilience in individuals, claims about increases in productivity aren’t yet supported by scientific evidence.

Recognizing that mindfulness is not enough to overcome dysfunctional leadership or cultures of high-performance pressure, the authors suggest that mindfulness interventions that focus on team and organizational processes may be more effective in the workplace than mindfulness training for individuals. In addition, more qualitative and correlative studies need to be done to better understand the role of mindfulness in organizations.

Effects Of Contemplative Meditation

While the two previous studies focused on mindfulness defined as awareness, this second set of papers looks more closely at Buddhist meditative practices. Could it be that contemplative practices to develop compassion, loving-kindness, and desire to help others are more effective in feeding prosocial behaviors in individuals and organizations than awareness meditation alone?

Cortland Dahl and Richard Davidson point out the gap between our understanding of mindfulness and our understanding of the full range of contemplative Buddhist practices.

The duo points out three contemplative practices that are worthy of further scientific interest.

  1. Those that develop prosocial qualities such as compassion,
  2. insight meditation to deepen self-knowledge, and
  3. meditations on purpose and meaning in life.

In addition, they suggest there’s a role for the sacred in meditation studies, as none of us live separate from cultural and religious context.

Wendy Hasenkamp also discusses the role of Buddhism in the field. Rather than re-hashing the pros and cons of secular meditation instruction, Hasenkamp reminds us that at their core, both Buddhism and science seek to examine our world and uncover truth.

In neurophenomenology, the study of subjective experience (phenomenology) is woven together with a neuroscientific investigation of consciousness. This is just one area where a Buddhist understanding of consciousness might help inform a scientific understanding of subjective experience. Hasenkamp reviews studies where Buddhism and science have already been interwoven in the field of neurophenomenology, and in studies on attention, self, and prosociality.

Gunes Sevinc and Sara Lazar also explore the intersection of Buddhist and secular understanding of meditation. The duo points out that, indeed, mindfulness is ordinarily studied in relation to the enhancement of cognitive skills, attention and working memory, while in Buddhism, mindfulness is used as a means to promote virtuous, prosocial qualities. They postulate, however, that

a mindful state, with heightened attention to and awareness of the sensory and contextual features, may transform the individual’s ability to detect morally relevant information and result in improvements in moral behavior.

The researchers distinguish between prosocial behavior and moral cognition, studying only the latter. While prosocial behaviors include helping and sharing, for example, moral cognition is concerned only with a person’s ability to recognize a situation as morally relevant.

Applying Mindfulness To Politics & Schools

In the following two papers, researchers looked at two areas where mindfulness has the potential to initiate real change; in politics and schools.

Jamie Bristow offers insight into the promise of an eight-week mindfulness training program attended by members of the UK national parliament. Although members of the program originally participated under the promise of strict anonymity, several have since come public about the positive impact of mindfulness on their personal and professional lives.

A core group of 20 politicians continues to attend weekly drop-in classes. Since the founding of the successful program in 2013, several members of parliament have been invited to foreign countries to discuss the benefits of mindfulness training for legislatures. Bristow lists several outcomes of the program and why politicians, in particular, can benefit from mindfulness training.

By developing a new kind of familiarity with their own inner lives, a growing number of politicians are finding a new way to approach political discourse, and a corresponding enthusiasm for policy that tackles society’s problems at the level of the human heart and mind.

Katherine Weare discusses the growing and promising quantitative evidence base on mindfulness in schools. Similar to Rupprecht’s paper on mindfulness in the workplace, she suggests mindfulness training is more effective when integrated into the institution as a whole, including its policies and culture.

Evidence shows that mindfulness-based interventions impact the mental health and wellbeing of students, help with social and emotional learning and positively impact cognition and learning as well as physical health. 

Just as the effectiveness of mindfulness in the workplace is largely influenced by the mindfulness of the boss, quantitative evidence supports the need for teachers to learn mindfulness themselves and establish their own practice if they are to cultivate mindfulness in schools effectively.

Sonja Geiger, Paul Grossman and Ulf Schrader, “Mindfulness and sustainability: correlation or causation?,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 23-27.

Silke Rupprecht, Wibo Koole, Michael Chaskalson, Chris Tamdjidi and Michael West, “Running too far ahead? Towards a broader understanding of mindfulnes in organisations” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 32-36.

Cortland J Dahl and Richard J Davidson, “Mindfulness and the contemplative life: pathways to connection, insight, and purpose,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 60-64.

Wendy Hasenkamp, “Fruits of the Buddhism-science dialog in contemplative research,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 126-132.

Gunes Sevinc and Sara W Lazar, “How does mindfulness training improve moral cognition: a theoretical and experimental framework for the study of embodied ethics,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 268-272.

Jamie Bristow, “Mindfulness in politics and public policy,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 87-91.

Katherine Weare, “Mindfulness and contemplatove approaches in education,” Current Opinion in Psychology Vol 28, 2019, 321-326.

Meditation. Free.