Study suggests that mindful meditation reduces egocentrism

Self-centeredness is common problem in modern society. A person’s belief that they hold a special place in the minds of others is an unfortunate consequence of our first-person perspective. We are literally at the center of our own individual worlds, leading us to perceive our role in every interaction as being integral. Another result of the first-person perspective is called the spotlight effect. It refers to the human tendency to overestimate the amount that they are noticed by others, and can be a significant source of stress-based anxiety along with other mental health concerns.

A recent piece of research published by the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that this egocentric perspective can be diminished by brief periods of mindfulness meditation.

Performed by Marius Golubickis and colleagues, the experiment included 160 participants (110 female). All but 40 subjects were assigned to either the treatment condition or the control group. Those in the treatment group initially participated in a brief (5 minute) mindfulness meditation session, while the control subjects took part in a similar focus-based task that omitted the mindful component.

Both groups were then instructed to imagine that they were passed by 40 other students while chatting with a friend in the school hallway, and to estimate the number of people who noticed the shirt they were wearing. The 40 students left out of these groups in the experiment were assigned to walk past people (trained confederates) in an actual hallway and then to report if they noticed the shirt that one of the chatters was wearing.

A tendency to overestimate being noticed by others was confirmed by comparing the actual measurements to those of the estimating groups. As expected, subjects who participated in brief mindfulness meditation were significantly less prone to overestimations of being noticed when compared to the control group. Analyses of self-report measures also showed that visual perspective played a role as mediator of the effect, as mindfulness was associated with the adoption of a third-person viewpoint.

Mindfulness training is known to have many psychological benefits. This research appears to uncover some of the underlying cognitive processes that support the effectiveness of the approach. Primarily, it was shown that the reduction of egocentrism via mindfulness training is at least partially enabled by a shift in one’s internal visual perspective to the third-person. While the emergence of egocentrism is associated with the first-person nature of the human vantage point, but it seems that this inherent handicap can be overcome by emphasizing a mindful perspective.