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Could our digital devices actually be making us kinder?

It is widely thought that digital devices separate us, but research indicates there is a chance they actually increase empathy levels. Really?

digital trends

digital trends

Walk a mile in your brother’s… headphones?

Electronic devices could be making us more empathetic, according to Northeastern University Professor of Psychology David DeSteno. Other research suggests that this effect comes with a caveat, however.

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Desteno’s study, published in the New York Times, follows a similar study in which he examined the effect of meditation on empathy.

Studying selflessness

In both studies participants entered a waiting room with three chairs, two of which were already taken, and were deemed empathetic if they gave up their seat when an ostensibly injured person on crutches joined the group.

In the first study, 50 percent of participants who took part in an eight-week guided meditation practice gave up their seats versus 16 percent of participants in the control group.

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In the second study subjects followed mindfulness practices courtesy on their smartphone, courtesy of Headspace, while the control group engaged in Lumosity brain training on their phones.

The surprising result was that even engaging in meditation guided by an electronic device improved empathy over the control group – 34 percent of meditators gave up their seat versus the 14 percent of Lumosity-using participants.

The caveat to these studies

Here is where we must address the caveat: subjects using a smartphone were only more empathetic when it was used to engage in a mindfulness practice.

Simply using an electronic device itself could not be said to improve empathy, and another study produced by researchers at the University of Sussex suggests using multiple devices- as millennials are prone to do- could damage the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which among other things is partially responsible for emotional control functions.

What trulyl increases empathy

Putting this all together it would be fair to say that awareness is what truly increases empathy. Distracting ourselves by multi-tasking on multiple devices or with games may keep us from noticing the people around us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use technology for good by using it to help us focus and be aware of ourselves and our place in the world.

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#Empathy

Written By

Staff Writer, Matt Huffer, turned down a glamorous life in physics to write stories, but he maintains a passion for technology and entrepreneurship. He can be found in Oklahoma City, on your couch, or generally anywhere comfy with a bit of shade.

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