Loving kindness: conceptual understanding vs meditation

Kang, Y., Gray, J. R., & Dovidio, J. F. (2014). The Head and the Heart: Effects of Understanding and Experiencing Loving Kindness on Attitudes Toward the Self and Others. Mindfulness, 1-8. Abstract.

Formation and maintenance of compassionate and loving attitudes toward the self and others is essential for adaptive social functioning. In this study, we use loving kindness meditation (LKM) to enhance positive attitudes toward the self and others. Meditation-based programs often include several components for which specific effects and dynamics are largely unknown, precluding conclusive support for their effectiveness. The present study tested actions underlying two main components of LKM programs: discussion and meditation.

Discussion focuses on a conceptual understanding of loving kindness, whereas meditation focuses on direct experiences and cultivation of loving kindness. Participants (n = 54) were randomly assigned either to attend a 6-week loving kindness discussion course or to be waitlisted for 6 weeks, both followed by attending a 6-week LKM course.

Attending the loving kindness discussion course alone had beneficial effects on attitudes toward the self, but not others. Attending the LKM course had additional positive impacts on attitudes toward the self and others.

These findings suggest that understanding ideas of lovingkindness through knowledge-based discussion without meditation may be sufficient to create positive changes in the view of self. However, for more comprehensive changes in attitude toward others, direct experiences of lovingkindness through meditation may be necessary.

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