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UCLA Professors Akihiro Nishi and Michael Irwin and colleagues co-authored a paper that was published in Nature‘s Scientific Reports titled, “Mindfulness Meditation Activates Altruism,” on April 16, 2020. Dr. Nishi and Dr. Irwin are affiliated with the Bedari Kindness Institute within the UCLA Division of Social Sciences. The paper finds that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and improves emotion regulation due to modulation of activity in neural substrates linked to the regulation of emotions and social preferences. The abstract is included below and the full paper can be found HERE.

Abstract

Clinical evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and improves emotion regulation due to modulation of activity in neural substrates linked to the regulation of emotions and social preferences. However, less was known about whether mindfulness meditation might alter pro-social behavior. Here we examined whether mindfulness meditation activates human altruism, a component of social cooperation. Using a simple donation game, which is a real-world version of the Dictator’s Game, we randomly assigned 326 subjects to a mindfulness meditation online session or control and measured their willingness to donate a portion of their payment for participation as a charitable donation. Subjects who underwent the meditation treatment donated at a 2.61 times higher rate than the control (p = 0.005), after controlling for socio-demographics. We also found a larger treatment effect of meditation among those who did not go to college (p < 0.001) and those who were under 25 years of age (p < 0.001), with both subject groups contributing virtually nothing in the control condition. Our results imply high context modularity of human altruism and the development of intervention approaches including mindfulness meditation to increase social cooperation, especially among subjects with low baseline willingness to contribute.

For the newly launched magazine, NOEMA, Dr. Safiya Noble wrote an essay that calls out the titans of technology, and challenges us all to look at the societal needs of this pivotal moment. As calls for abolition and racial justice echo from coast to coast, Dr. Noble informs us how “Big Tech is implicated in displacing high-quality knowledge institutions–newsrooms, libraries, schools, and universities–by destabilizing funding through tax evasion, actively eroding the public goods we need to flourish.” She also writes:

“We need new paradigms, not more new tech. We need fair and equitable implementations of public policy that bolster our collective good. We need to center the most vulnerable among us–the working poor and the disabled, those who live under racial and religious tyranny, the discriminated against and the oppressed. We need to house people and provide health, employment, creative arts, and educational resources. We need to close the intersectional racial wealth gap.”

Dr. Noble is an Associate Professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, and a faculty advisor to the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.

To read the complete essay, “The Loss Of Public Goods To Big Tech,” click HERE.

Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA Professor of Graduate Studies of Education and Information Sciences and Bedari Kindness Institute Faculty Advisory Committee member, has co-authored an opinion piece on CNN.com with Rene Bermudez titled “How Silicon Valley Is Putting Our Rights at Risk.” The co-authors discuss the need for Dr. Srinivasan’s Digital Bill of Rights especially as we approach the 2020 Presidential Election.  To read the op-ed, click HERE.

LA Social Science interviewed Dr. Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.  He discusses how showing appreciation and gratitude are practical ways to keep morale in difficult circumstances, such as the current coronavirus pandemic. We are also reminded to “Play Your Part Stay Apart” (PYPSA).

Check out our previous stories related to the research on kindness at UCLA:

A Global Lifeboat: Evolution and Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus (Audio)

Doing Good with Dr. Fessler

$20 Million Gift Establishes the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute in the Division of Social Sciences

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Female Neighbor Helping Senior Woman With Shopping
Photo Credit: https://salud-america.org

Dr. Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, discusses how an understanding of humanity’s past and present can help us to meet the personal, social, and political challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Listen here:

You may also listen to the audio on YouTube HERE.

 

Check out our previous stories related to the research on kindness at UCLA:

Doing Good with Dr. Fessler

$20 Million Gift Establishes the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute in the Division of Social Sciences

 

Subscribe to LA Social Science and be the first to learn more insight and knowledge from UCLA social science experts in upcoming video/audio sessions and posts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

By Lara Drasin

What makes someone want to “do good?” Dr. Daniel Fessler of UCLA’s Anthropology department—the inaugural director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute and 2018 recipient of the UCLA Gold Shield Faculty prize—is trying to figure that out, and sat down with LA Social Science to share some thoughts on the subject from an evolutionary perspective.

Fessler and his colleagues are currently conducting research on altruism, or “pro-social behavior.” He says that altruism, or moments in which a person goes out of their way to help another, can actually be “contagious:” witnessing the kindness of others can trigger an emotional reaction in us and inspire us to commit altruistic acts ourselves. The team of researchers are interested investigating what specifically triggers those reaction—or the “machinery inside the mind,” as he puts it, that causes us to make decisions as to whether to be helpful or not. This includes the role that our expectations play in the process. Fessler says that idealists are most likely to be affected, while cynics—or people who are prone to not expect the best from others—are less likely to have this reaction.

What makes someone idealistic or cynical? In addition to studying altruism, Fessler also looks at media and its effects, including how the messages we consume through media may impact the expectations we have of others. “When you choose to repeatedly consume information about the darker aspects of human behavior,” he said, “you’re shaping your own expectations about how other people will behave. It makes you less likely to respond pro-socially when there’s an opportunity to behave in a cooperative situation with others.”

Fessler says that there’s reason to believe our minds process information presented to us through media as though it’s firsthand experience. For example, people who watch a lot of local news overestimate the likelihood that they’ll become victims of violence.

“I love action movies as much as the next person, but I don’t watch them anymore,” he said. “I intentionally avoid realistic depictions of violence because I think it increases our estimation that other people are hostile and violent toward us, and that’s not an orientation I want to have.”

Fessler admits that it is “early days” when it comes to making definitive claims on the psychological effects of media consumption, but he draws a parallel to tobacco. He notes that though it’s legal to buy tobacco products, one can’t pick up a pack of cigarettes without seeing messages reminding us that it is harmful. “I could see a day when we want the same kind of public information campaigns that we have for tobacco use for media consumption,” he said, suggesting that whether or not to consume certain types of media could then become a matter of personal choice, but informed personal choice. “The best thing we can do as scientists is study these things and inform people,” he said, “so that everyone involved can recognize the consequences of their decisions more fully.”

When it comes to his students, Fessler likes to focus on subjects that the students can connect to in their own lives. Everyday subjects including questions like why women tend to be evaluated based on looks; why physical altercations tend to spur from trivial disagreements; and the relationship between economic inequality and violence are all discussed. “It’s important that I teach students in the way that they understand the personal impact of the information,” he said. Usually, conversations take place in a learning environment that Fessler fosters to invoke the same small-scale, face-to-face interactions in which people normally learn outside the context of formal education. He hosts the “FessLab,” where students are invited to assist Dr. Fessler with research outside of class. “The students named it FessLab,” he said, laughing. “It seems kind of self-aggrandizing to me.”

Fessler says that what he loves about UCLA is that it is full of scholars and students who are excited, interested, collaborative and genuinely want to make the world a better place. “That’s not commonly found,” he said. “There is so much good work being done here.”

 

To learn more about the establishment of the new UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, please click HERE.

The Bedari Foundation, established by philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris, has given $20 million to the UCLA College to establish the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.

The institute, which is housed in the division of social sciences, will support world-class research on kindness, create opportunities to translate that research into real-world practices, and serve as a global platform to educate and communicate its findings. Among its principal goals are to empower citizens and inspire leaders to build more humane societies.

“In the midst of current world politics, violence and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences. “Rooted in serious academic work, the institute will partner and share its research on kindness broadly in accessible formats. The Bedari Foundation’s extraordinary gift is truly visionary and we are grateful for its support and leadership.”

“The mission of the Kindness Institute perfectly aligns with that of the division of social sciences, where engaging the amazing diversity and social challenges shaping Los Angeles routinely inspires research that has the potential to change the world,” Hunt said.

To read the full UCLA Newsroom press release, click HERE.