Loving-Kindness meditation for self-criticism

Shahar, Ben, et al. “A Wait‐List Randomized Controlled Trial of Loving‐Kindness Meditation Programme for Self‐Criticism.” Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, vol. 22, no. 4, 2015, pp. 346-356. Full text.

From the Abstract. Self-criticism is a vulnerability risk factor for a number of psychological disorders, and it predicts poor response to psychological and pharmacological treatments.

In the current study, we evaluated the efficacy of a loving-kindness meditation (LKM) programme designed to increase self-compassion in a sample of self-critical individuals. Thirty-eight individuals with high scores on the self-critical perfectionism subscale of the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale were randomized to an LKM condition (n=19) or a waitlist condition (n=19).

Measures of self-criticism, self-compassion and psychological distress were administered before and immediately following the intervention. participants received the intervention immediately after the waiting period. Both groups were assessed 3 months post-intervention. … A follow-up … in both groups together (n=20) showed that these gains were maintained 3 months after the intervention.

These preliminary results suggest that LKM may be efficacious in alleviating self-criticism, increasing self-compassion and improving depressive symptoms among self-critical individuals


Loving-kindness meditation (analytic review)

Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1693. Full text.

While it has been suggested that loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is an effective practice for promoting positive emotions, the empirical evidence in the literature remains unclear. Here, we provide a systematic review of 24 empirical studies on LKM with self-reported positive emotions.

Analysis showed that (1) interventions focused on loving-kindness had medium effect size, but interventions focused on compassion showed small effect sizes; (2) the length of interventions and the time spent on meditation did not influence the effect sizes, but the studies without didactic components in interventions had small effect sizes. A few individual studies reported that the nature of positive emotions and individual differences also influenced the results.


Loving-kindness meditation for symptoms of depression

Hofmann, S.G. at al. (2015). Loving-Kindness Meditation to Target Affect in Mood Disorders: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Article ID 269126, doi:10.1155/2015/269126. Full text.

Conventional treatments for mood disorders primarily focus on reducing negative affect, but little on enhancing positive affect. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a traditional meditation practice directly oriented toward enhancing unconditional and positive emotional states of kindness towards oneself and others.

We report here two independent and uncontrolled studies carried out at different centers, one in Boston, USA (n = 10), and one in Frankfurt, Germany (n = 8), to examine the potential therapeutic utility of a brief LKM group intervention for symptoms of dysthymia and depression.

Results at both centers suggest that LKM was associated with large-sized effects on self-reported symptoms of depression , negative affect, and positive affect. Large effects were also found for clinician-reported changes in depression, rumination and specific positive emotions, and moderate effects for changes in adaptive emotion regulation strategies. The qualitative data analyses provide additional support for the potential clinical utility of the intervention.

Reducing racial bias

Stell, A. J., & Farsides, T. (2015). Brief loving-kindness meditation reduces racial bias, mediated by positive other-regarding emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 1-8. Abstract only.

The relationship between positive emotions and implicit racial prejudice is unclear. Interventions using positive emotions to reduce racial bias have been found wanting, while other research shows that positive affect can sometimes exacerbate implicit prejudice. Nevertheless, loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has shown some promise as a method of reducing bias despite increasing a broad range of positive emotions.

A randomised control trial (n = 69) showed that a short-term induction of LKM decreased automatic processing, increased controlled processing, and was sufficient to reduce implicit prejudice towards the target’s racial group but not towards a group untargeted by the meditation.

The study is the first to show that a short-term positive emotional induction can reduce racial prejudice, and aids the understanding of how positive emotions functionally differentiate in affecting bias.

Is meditation always relaxing? Longitudinal study of 3 methods

Lumma, A. L., Kok, B. E., & Singer, T. (2015). Is Meditation always relaxing? Investigating Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Experienced Effort and Likeability during Training of three types of Meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Accepted manuscript in press. From the Abstract.

Meditation is often associated with a relaxed state of the body. Meditation can however also be regarded as a kind of mental task and training, which is associated with mental effort and physiological arousal. The cardiovascular effects of meditation may vary depending on the type of meditation, degree of mental effort, and amount of training.

In the current study we assessed heart rate (HR), high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) and subjective ratings of effort and likeability during three types of meditation varying in their cognitive and attentional requirements, namely breathing meditation, loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation. In the context of [this] project, a one-year longitudinal mental training study, participants practiced each meditation exercise on a daily basis for 3 months.

Results showed that as expected HR and effort were higher during loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation compared to breathing meditation. With training over time HR and likeability increased, while HF-HRV and the subjective experience of effort decreased. The increase in HR and decrease in HF-HRV over training was higher for loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation compared to breathing meditation.

In contrast to implicit beliefs about meditation being always relaxing and associated with low arousal, the results show that core meditations aiming at improving compassion and meta-cognitive skills require effort and are associated with physiological arousal compared to breathing meditation. Overall these findings can be useful in making more specific suggestions about which type of meditation is most adaptive for a given context and population.

Reduces mind wandering

Jazaieri, H., et. al. (2015). A wandering mind is a less caring mind: Daily experience sampling during compassion meditation training. The Journal of Positive Psychology, (ahead-of-print), 1-14. Abstract.

Mind wandering, or the tendency for attention to drift to task-irrelevant thoughts, has been associated with worse intra- and inter-personal functioning. Utilizing daily experience sampling with 51 adults during 9-weeks of a compassion meditation program, we examined effects on mind wandering (to neutral, pleasant, and unpleasant topics) and caring behaviors for oneself and others.

Results indicated that compassion meditation decreased mind wandering to neutral topics and increased caring behaviors towards oneself. When collapsing across topics, mind wandering did not serve as an intermediary between the frequency of compassion meditation practice and caring behaviors, though mind wandering to pleasant and unpleasant topics was linked to both variables.

A path analysis revealed that greater frequency of compassion meditation practice was related to reductions in mind wandering to unpleasant topics and increases in mind wandering to pleasant topics, both of which were related to increases in caring behaviors for oneself and others.

How does loving-kindness meditation alter brain and body?

Mascaro, J. S., Darcher, A., Negi, L. T., & Raison, C. (2015). The neural mediators of kindness-based meditation: a theoretical model. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 109. To access full text, click here, then open PDF.

brain-budAbstract. Although kindness-based contemplative practices are increasingly employed by clinicians and cognitive researchers to enhance prosocial emotions, social cognitive skills, and well-being, and as a tool to understand the basic workings of the social mind, we lack a coherent theoretical model with which to test the mechanisms by which kindness-based meditation may alter the brain and body.

Here we link contemplative accounts of compassion and lovingkindness practices with research from social cognitive neuroscience and social psychology to generate predictions about how diverse practices may alter brain structure and function and related aspects of social cognition.

Contingent on the nuances of the practice, kindness-based meditation may enhance the neural systems related to faster and more basic perceptual or motor simulation processes, simulation of another’s affective body state, slower and higher-level perspective-taking, modulatory processes such as emotion regulation and self/other discrimination, and combinations thereof.

This theoretical model will be discussed alongside bestpractices for testing such a model and potential implications and applications of future work.