But a new study suggests that people who regularly practice Buddhist meditation actually process these common social situations differently — and the researchers have the brain scans to prove it.
Ulrich Kirk and collaborators at Baylor Medical College in Houston had 40 control subjects and 26 longtime meditators participate in a well-known experiment called the Ultimatum Game. It goes like this:
One person has a sum of money to split with another person. If the other person accepts the offer, they both walk away with cash in their pocket, but if he or she rejects the offer as too chintzy — which happens surprisingly often — neither receives anything.
The rational course is to accept any offer that is proposed, because getting something is better than nothing at all, but the Ultimatum Game suggests that for many people, emotion trumps reason. Being treated fairly is more important than coming out ahead financially.
Kirk’s subjects had $20 to split among themselves. When the offers were wildly asymmetrical (keeping $19 for oneself, while offering only $1), 72 percent of the controls refused the money, meaning both parties left empty-handed. But when the meditators played, only 46 percent rejected such blatantly unfair offers. More than half were willing to take whatever they were offered.
Mysticism makes people more rational. I can think of nothing more counter-intuitive.