New research suggests that people who meditate could end up decreasing negative emotions not only in themselves but in their relationship partners as well. The new findings have been published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
“Most research on meditation has focused on its benefits for the individuals doing the practice. This research, particularly over the last 20 years, has shown that meditation has numerous benefits for the practitioner, such as increasing mindfulness and positive emotions, and decreasing negative emotions,” said study author Christopher May, an assistant professor at the University College Groningen.
“It occurred to me that these individual benefits might also impact others. Our question then was: could we detect benefits in others who interacted with a person that was benefitting from meditation? This work was inspired by other work showing, for example, that emotions, health behaviors, and even happiness can be contagious,” he explained.
“In this study, we looked at whether the effects of one person’s meditation practice could be observed in someone else that they interacted with regularly.”
May and his colleagues recruited 53 university students, who enrolled in the study along with a friend, romantic partner, roommate, coworker, or family member. None of the participants had previously maintained a regular meditation practice.
Eighteen of these dyads ended up having little interaction with each other, however, and were excluded from the final analysis — leaving the researchers with 35 pairs of participants.
Both members of each dyad completed daily surveys for 8 weeks that assessed mindfulness, mood, and interactions with their study partner. Meanwhile, one member of each dyad used a guided audio file to meditate for 15 minutes per day for two non-consecutive 2-week phases of the study.
The researchers found that participants tended to report fewer negative emotions after meditating. This appeared to extend to their study partners as well. Non-meditating participants also tended to report fewer negative emotions during periods when their partner meditated.
But, unlike the meditating participants, the non-meditating participants did not experience increases in mindfulness and positive emotions when their partner meditated.
“The primary result from this study is that during periods when someone meditated, their study partner (someone they interacted with regularly) reported lower negative emotions,” May told PsyPost.
“The results of this study resonate with words of the Dalai Lama: ‘Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.’ In this case, meditation may not only help you feel better, but could help the people you interact with everyday feel a little bit better.”
The study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“This study should be replicated with a larger number of participants in order to increase our confidence about the robustness of the results. Follow-up research is also required to understand the mechanisms responsible for the effect we observed,” May explained.
“That is, we don’t know exactly why participants reported lower negative emotions during periods when their relationship partner meditated. Perhaps, for example, meditators were less reactive to emotional flair-ups and so would-be arguments were less likely to escalate. This is a hypothesis that needs to be tested.”
The study, “Mindfulness Meditation is Associated with Decreases in Partner Negative Affect in Daily Life“, was authored by Christopher J. May, Brian D. Ostafin, and Evelien Snippe.