By meditating on having compassion for someone in your life, a new study suggests that you can become a more sympathetic person in as little as two weeks. Conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, the study gave participants seven hours of practice during 30-minute sessions that spanned two weeks.
"Participants were told to observe the thoughts and feelings that arise as they imagine a time that each person has suffered. The goal is to give participants practice at tolerating their reactions, rather than avoiding them or getting too wrapped up in them."
The study then measured whether specific feelings of sympathy spilled over into broader areas, allowing us to have sympathy for people we don't know personally. Researchers performed tests in which participants were given the option of helping an anonymous stranger, finding that personal sympathy and impersonal sympathy activated similar parts of the brain.
When it comes to general feelings of sympathy, however, as Dan Ariely explains in his Big Think interview, it is much easier for us to have sympathy for a specific person than a whole group of people. For this reason, individual cases of hardship often receive more media attention than nation-wide problems.
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