What is social mindfulness?

Imagine a situation in which two friends enter a cafe and decide to have something sweet with their coffee. As it turns out, the cafe has only three pieces of cake left to choose from: Two slices of lemon meringue and one of carrot cake. If the first person who chooses wants to be nice, she takes the lemon meringue, so her friend still has different kinds of cake to choose from; taking the carrot cake would in fact limit her friend’s choice.  What to do? This calls for social mindfulness!

Being socially mindful, then, is simply being mindful of others. It involves a ‘social mind’ that recognizes the needs and wishes that other people may have in the present moment. The kind of prosocial behavior we associate with social mindfulness requires that people both see what others may want, and act accordingly; so it's a two-step process. If people do not notice the option of being socially mindful, however, they are unlikely to act socially mindful beyond chance. But if they consistently show not to be mindful of others (by limiting their choice, for example), they may very well be socially hostile, which is the flip side of social mindfulness (see Van Lange & Van Doesum, 2015).  In all, social mindfulness or social hostility resides in the many small decisions we have to make in the majority of our daily social interactions - like choosing which piece of pie to take. 

The SoMi paradigm that we developed and tested to measure social mindfulness builds on situations like the one depicted in the example above where two people each may choose between various products, but one person must always do so first. This first person logically determines what will remain for the second person, a situation that provides the initial chooser with opportunities to be socially mindful or not. An important feature is that the available products to choose from are always identical, except for one that is slightly different. For example, one yellow and three blue baseball caps, one green versus two red apples, and so on. Basically, taking the unique option limits the other's choice, which is not a prosocial thing to do.

In research, social mindfulness has shown to be related to personality factors like honesty-humility and agreeableness. But thanks to the focus on the demands of the present, this novel concept is also readily adaptable to the dynamic environment of interpersonal and inter-group relationships.