In other words, such mental-training programs make participants more efficient and more focused, while improving their capacity to cope with stress. At the same time, they promote pro-social behavior and a broader, less self-centered perspective that accounts for humans’ interdependence. Such findings have started to inspire fields like experimental microeconomics and neuroeconomics, which, in turn, have begun to incorporate pro-social preferences into their decisionmaking frameworks.
These promising findings should now be incorporated into new economic models and concrete policy proposals. Given that brains are at their most malleable during childhood, beginning mental training in school would help to create a solid foundation for the kind of secular ethics that would contribute to the development of a more compassionate society. However, mental training also has benefits for adults, so businesses, political authorities and research institutions should collaborate in establishing “mental gymnasiums.”
Furthermore, institutional reform could be aimed at adapting social environments to foster cooperation instead of competition, and to activate our motivation to engage in caring behavior, rather than seeking achievement, power and status only. In the long run, striving only for the latter leads to imbalance and resource depletion, not only on the individual level, but also globally.
Humans are capable of far more than selfishness and materialism. Indeed, we are capable of building sustainable, equitable and caring political systems, economies and societies. Rather than continuing to indulge the most destructive drivers of human behavior, global leaders should work to develop systems that encourage individuals to meet their full socio-emotional and cognitive potentials — and, thus, to create a world in which we all want to live.
Tania Singer is director of the Department of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences /Global Economic Symposium