Compassionate Mind Research Group Lab

About the lab

The Compassionate Mind Research Group promotes wellbeing by facilitating the scientific understanding and application of compassion. We are particularly focused on compassion-focused therapy and evolutionary models and how they apply to therapy, parenting, leadership, schools and community.

The Compassionate Mind Research Group is Co-Directed by Dr James Kirby and Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Stan Steindl. We are based at the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. We are affiliated with the Compassionate Mind Foundation in the UK, founded by Professor Paul Gilbert O.B.E. who is also the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy.

Featured projects (1)

To examine the impact reality television shows have on co-operative vs competitive motives in structured activities.

Featured research (3)

A marker of engaging in compassion meditation and related processes is an increase in heart-rate variability (HRV), typically interpreted as a marker of parasympathetic nervous system response. While insightful, open questions remain. For example, which timescale is best to examine the effects of meditation and related practices on HRV? Furthermore, how might advanced time-series analyses––such as stationarity––be able to examine dynamic changes in the mean and variance of the HRV signal across time? Here we apply such methods to previously published data, which measured HRV pre- and post- a two-week compassionate mind training (CMT) intervention. Inspection of these data reveals that a visualization of HRV correlations across resting and compassion meditation states, pre- and post-two-week training, is retained across numerous recording timescales. Here, the fractal-like nature of our data indicates that the accuracy of representing HRV data can exist across timescales, albeit with greater or lesser granularity. Interestingly, inspection of the HRV signal at Time 2 compassion meditation versus Time 1 revealed a more highly correlated (i.e. potentially more stable) signal. We followed up these results with tests of stationarity, which revealed Time 2 had a less stochastic (variable) signal than Time 1, and a measure of distance in the time series, which showed that Time 2 had less of an average difference between rest and meditation than at Time 1. Our results provide novel assessment of visual and statistical markers of HRV change across distinct experimental states.
Objectives: As social creatures, we monitor our relative rank and/or status with others via social comparisons. Whilst research has identified perceptions of inferiority or 'low rank' relative to others is a robust predictor of depressive, anxious, and stress symptomology, to date individual differences have been ignored. We wish to provide empirical evidence to outline how differences across personality traits may interact with social rank variables to buffer or predispose towards depressive symptomology. Methods: Across three independent samples (N = 595), we replicated a social rank model of mental health, and with our third sample (N = 200), we sought to investigate attenuating roles for neuroticism versus compassion with multiple moderated regression models. Results: Neuroticism predicted greater levels of rank-associated depression, and compassion failed to function as a protective factor for rank-associated depression. However, a closer inspection of the original Big-5 factor structure positions this scale as a measure of 'interpersonal submissiveness' or 'conflict appeasement' rather than genuine compassion. Conclusions: Whilst it is necessary to delineate the conditions where compassion is appropriate and able to lead to positive mental health outcomes, we argue this cannot be addressed with the Big-5 measure of trait compassion. We call for future work to consider valid and reliable measures for compassion, such as the self-compassion scale, submissive compassion scale, and fears of compassion scale, to more fully address how compassion may protect against both rank-based comparisons and severity of depression. Practitioner points: Social rank mechanisms are robustly implicated in depression, anxiety, and stress. Clients who present as higher in neuroticism, inferiority, or submissiveness may be more prone towards rank-associated depression symptoms. Preliminary evidence suggests cultivation of genuine compassion can shift clients from a rank-focussed to a compassionate-focussed mentality, which aids mental health and fosters well-being.

Lab head

James N. Kirby
  • School of Psychology

Members (5)

Paul Gilbert
  • University of Derby
Stan Steindl
  • The University of Queensland
Cassandra L Tellegen
  • The University of Queensland
Jeffrey J. Kim
  • The University of Queensland
Alicia Carter
  • Central Queensland University
David Laczko
David Laczko
  • Not confirmed yet