Mindfulness: Its Relation to Psychology, Empathy, and Technology

Positive Psychology

While the practice of mindfulness has grown wildly popular, there are those who believe mindfulness and its claimed benefits have been over-hyped. These detractors question how mindfulness meditation influences health. They also believe much remains unclear about what exactly mindfulness does to the human brain or to what extent it helps people suffering from physical and mental challenges (Lieberman, 2018). I posit that before we can delve more deeply into such conversations, it’s imperative to first explore if mindfulness is even related to the field of psychology. This writing briefly spells out some findings that align mindfulness’s foundations with human psychology, spotlights its correlations to empathy, and highlights relevant mindfulness technology observations.

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is another way of describing and being “awake” or conscious (Gregory and Rutledge, 2016, p. 63). Gregory and Rutledge (2016) also reference the three research constructs related to mindfulness, with two of the three constructs being “a mental trait” and a “state of mind” (p. 102).

As psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior (“What is psychology?,” n.d.), and mindfulness is related to both our minds and our behavior, then mindfulness and psychology appear to be, at minimum, intertwined.

Moreover, mindfulness has also been recognized as a means for improving self-awareness, self-determination, competence, and relatedness (Brown & Ryan, 2004), all of which are not only factors related to human well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000) but notably, the cognitive mind as well.

Do mindfulness and empathy have any correlation?

Academically speaking, researchers have established that increases in mindfulness increase empathy and vice versa (Gregory and Rutledge, 2016, p. 123). Empathic concern and perspective taking have been shown to have the closest correlations to mindfulness (p.123).

Given the above, it’s highly probable mindfulness and empathy do share a connection.

The mindfulness practice of focusing on “the here and now,” along with mindfulness meditation, requires the ability to go within yourself, motivated by the desire to find or create inner-peace and improving self-awareness.

Such desires or aspirations come from a place of self-care motivated by self-compassion and self-love, with each of these “self-centric” intentions requiring one to have empathy with oneself. Thus, practicing self-empathy/self-compassion appears to be conducive to generating empathy for others.

Self-compassion has been shown to mediate the relationship between mindfulness and aspects of empathy and is a critical component in the ability to take on the perspectives of others (p. 123).

What about mindfulness-focused media and technology?

While media and online technologies can distract our mindfulness, they can also help us to nurture it as well.

For example, a cursory search on Google for “mindfulness technologies” served up millions of results with links to various mindfulness apps and other such-related technologies, a topic I’ve covered in some detail here. So technology that helps us discover, nurture, and practice mindfulness does appear to be readily available.

#mindfulnesstech

Interestingly, a random search on Twitter for the #mindfulnesstech hashtag served up several tweets highlighting non-app, mindfulness technology links, including:

It’s curious to note, however, that the #mindfulnesstech hashtag is hardly popular. At the time of this writing, the first tweet to use this hashtag is dated 2014 and since then, this hashtag’s only been used 15 times.

In conclusion, it appears folks are using the #mindfulness hashtag more generically but those conversations have little to do with mindfulness technology. This leaves me to believe there is plenty of room for expanded discussions in the mindfulness technology conversational space.

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References

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Fostering healthy self-regulation from within and without: a self-determination theory perspective. In P.A. Linkly & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 105-124). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Gregory, E., & Rutledge, P. B. (2016). Exploring positive psychology. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. Greenwood. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004.

Lieberman, B. (n.d.). Mindfulness may have been over-hyped. BBC – Homepage. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180502-does-mindfulness-really-improve-our-health.

Lopez, S.J. & Snyder, C.R. (Eds.) (2009). Oxford library of psychology. Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.) Oxford University Press.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55,66-78.

What is psychology? (n.d.). The Ohio state university department of psychology. Retrieved from https://psychology.osu.edu/about/what-psychology.

Please share any questions or feedback in the comments below.

Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

Photo credits:
Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

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