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CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL
ISSN: 1040-0419 (Print) 1532-6934 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hcrj20
Don't Be So Hard on Yourself: Self-Compassion
Facilitates Creative Originality Among Self-
Darya L. Zabelina & Michael D. Robinson
To cite this article: Darya L. Zabelina & Michael D. Robinson (2010) Don't Be So Hard on
Yourself: Self-Compassion Facilitates Creative Originality Among Self-Judgmental Individuals,
CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL, 22:3, 288-293, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2010.503538
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2010.503538
Published online: 10 Aug 2010.
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Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself: Self-Compassion Facilitates
Creative Originality Among Self-Judgmental Individuals
Darya L. Zabelina
Michael D. Robinson
North Dakota State University
Self-compassion is a multifaceted state of potential utility in alleviating the self-critical
tendencies that may undermine creative expressions among certain individuals. To
investigate this idea, 86 undergraduates were randomly assigned to control or
self-compassion conditions, following which creative originality was assessed by a
version of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The manipulation was
hypothesized to facilitate creative originality particularly among individuals who are
prone to critical self-judgment, as assessed by a trait measure. This interactive hypoth-
esis was supported: Self-judgmental individuals displayed lower levels of creative
originality in the control condition, but equal levels of creative originality in the
self-compassion condition. Results are discussed in the context of theories of creative
potential, self-compassion, and chronic tendencies toward self-criticism.
Self-compassion involves viewing the self with kindness
and compassion, which has been theorized to be parti-
cularly important when negative events and experiences
occur (Bennett-Goleman, 2001). Although this construct
originates from Buddhist concepts and practices (Kornﬁeld
& Walsh, 1993), there is increased recognition that self-
compassion may be of secular (i.e., non-Buddhist) utility
in alleviating high levels of shyness and self-criticism
(Gilbert, 2005), as well as facilitating more ﬂexible appro-
aches to suffering (Germer, 2009). In this context, Neff
(2003b) stated that self-compassion involves ‘‘being open
to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings
of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an under-
standing, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequa-
cies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is
part of the common human experience’’ (p. 224).
A small, but promising, body of ﬁndings has pro-
vided empirical support for the beneﬁcial nature of
self-compassion among nonclinical samples. For
example, Neff (2003a) found that individuals scoring
low in dispositional self-compassion (i.e., self-critical
individuals) were more anxious and depressed. Sub-
sequently, Leary, Tate, Adams, Allen, and Hancock
(2007) developed a state-related manipulation of
self-compassion and showed that it appeared to reduce
defensive responding and increase levels of resiliency
and equanimity. The dependent measures for both of
these studies, though, were predominantly of a
self-reported nature. Our study signiﬁcantly extends this
prior literature by seeking to understand whether, and
for whom, a self-compassion manipulation facilitates
original creative thinking.
SELF-COMPASSION: A PLAUSIBLE
FACILITATOR OF CREATIVE ORIGINALITY
A self-compassionate mindset may facilitate higher
levels of creative originality, with the caveat that no
studies have directly investigated this interface. None-
theless, Neff (2003a) found that self-compassionate indi-
viduals reported engaging in tasks for more intrinsic
Darya L. Zabelina acknowledges support from an NSF Graduate
Correspondence should be sent to Darya L. Zabelina, Department
of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road–102 Swift
Hall, Evanston, IL 60298. E-mail: email@example.com
CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL, 22(3), 288–293, 2010
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-0419 print=1532-6934 online
reasons, and intrinsic motivation has been shown to
facilitate higher levels of creative originality (Collins &
Amabile, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Additionally, Neff,
Hsieh, and Dejitterat (2005) found that self-compassion
was positively associated with a mastery orientation to
tasks, which, too, tends to facilitate creative perfor-
mance (Silvia, 2006). The creativity literature has
additionally shown that lower levels of creative self-
efﬁcacy, which may be linked to lesser self-compassion
in more general terms (Neff, 2003b), are predictive of
lower levels of creative originality (Choi, 2004; Tierney
& Farmer, 2002, 2004).
Accordingly, there were reasons for thinking that the
variables and processes highlighted in the self-compassion
literature would be of value in understanding creative
performance. To investigate potential links of this type,
dispositional tendencies toward critical self-judgment were
assessed (Neff, 2003a). Additionally, a self-compassionate
mindset was experimentally manipulated using the
priming procedures of Leary et al. (2007). Subsequently,
all participants completed a test of creative potential
(Goff & Torrance, 2002). It was hypothesized that
self-judgmental individuals would exhibit lesser creative
originality in a control condition, but that this deﬁcit
would be equalized following the induction of a
self-compassionate mindset. If so, trait tendencies toward
self-judgment and manipulated levels of self-compassion
should interact to predict creative originality scores.
Because the processes examined here are likely to involve
self-censoring novel, original ideas (Beghetto, 2006;
Tierney & Farmer, 2002), it was hypothesized that
observed effects should be particular to creative originality
rather than the mere ﬂuency of creative output.
Participants and Recruitment
Participants were 86 (55 male) undergraduate psy-
chology students from North Dakota State University
who were required to participate in a number of
research studies in return for course credit. The majority
of them were freshmen or sophomores, Caucasian in
race (>90%), and their mean age was 20.01. To sign
up for the study, students logged into the department’s
Sona Internet registration software and entered their
names within a relevant time-slot. Approximately 10%
of the students did not show up for their session, but
there was 100% participation among those who did.
Self-compassion should be particularly relevant under
conditions in which the self’s ﬂaws have been made
salient (Leary et al., 2007). Accordingly, and to control
for the fact that merely writing about a negative event
can have therapeutic effects (Pennebaker, Colder, &
Sharp, 1990), all participants wrote about a negative
personal experience from the past. Writing instructions
were closely modeled on those of Leary et al. (2007)
and asked participants to ‘‘think about a negative event
that they experienced in high school or college that
made them feel badly about themselves—something that
involved failure, humiliation, or rejection.’’ Participants
were asked to describe the event and then provide details
regarding what led up to it, who was present, precisely
what happened, and how they felt and behaved at the
time. After writing about the event for 5 min, parti-
cipants were then randomly assigned to either a control
condition or one designed to induce a self-
Participants in the control condition continued to
write about the event without additional instructions.
Participants assigned to the self-compassion condition
received three additional prompts designed to encourage
a self-compassionate orientation to the self, again
modeled after the procedures of Leary et al. (2007).
The ﬁrst prompt asked individuals to list ways in which
others also experience similar events (designed to evoke
a common humanity perspective). The second prompt
asked individuals to write a paragraph expressing under-
standing, kindness, and concern for the self in a manner
similar to the way in which they would sympathize with
a friend who had undergone the experience (designed to
evoke a self-kindness perspective). The third prompt
asked individuals to view the event in an objective,
detached manner (designed to evoke a mindfulness per-
spective). The three prompts collectively, then, sought
to instantiate the multifaceted state of self-compassion
in a manner consistent with how this state is deﬁned
and understood in the literature (Leary et al., 2007;
Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA). Crea-
tive performance was assessed using the ATTA (Goff &
Torrance, 2002), a shortened form of the TTCT
(Torrance, 1974). The ATTA consists of three activities,
one involving verbal responses and two involving ﬁgural
responses (e.g., using presented geometrical shapes to
draw a more complete picture). Goff and Torrance
provided evidence for the reliability and validity of this
assessment of creative performance. Responses were
scored for ﬂuency (i.e., a count of the number of perti-
nent responses) and originality (i.e., the number of
responses that were unique and original), and scores
were then summed across the three activities (Goff &
SELF-COMPASSION FACILITATES CREATIVE ORIGINALITY 289
Prior to scoring the ATTA protocols, the ﬁrst author
initially achieved a very high level of agreement with
example responses from the manual. The ﬁrst author
also submitted a subset of ATTA protocols from a prior
study (Zabelina & Robinson, 2010) to the test
developers. Again, a very high level of agreement with
the test developers was obtained, rs >.90. Accordingly,
the ﬁrst author scored all ATTA protocols from this
study, and did so blind to individual differences in
self-judgment and priming condition.
Individual differences in critical self-judgment. Parti-
cipants completed the self-judgment scale developed
and validated by Neff (2003a). This scale asks individuals
to indicate the frequency (1 ¼almost never;5¼almost
always) with which they are habitually self-critical (e.g.,
‘‘I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own
ﬂaws and inadequacies’’). Neff (2003a) reported a .77
Cronbach’s alpha for this scale and an alpha coefﬁcient
of .63 was found in the present study.
Mood. Mood was assessed following ATTA
performance for the sake of discriminant validity. Par-
ticipants rated the extent to which their present mood
state could be characterized as positive (1 ¼very positive;
7¼not positive) and negative (1 ¼very negative;7¼not
negative) in relation to these two mood items.
Reverse-scoring procedures were used such that higher
numbers reﬂected a more pleasant and=or less
unpleasant momentary state (Russell & Carroll, 1999).
Although the mood scale administered was brief, it
was highly reliable (alpha ¼.74). Accordingly, a com-
posite variable of mood state was calculated.
The laboratory consisted of 6 private cubicles and, thus,
participants were run in groups of 1–6 individuals at a
time. Upon entering the lab, participants were informed
that the study would consist of three different, ostensibly
unrelated tasks: a writing task (i.e., the manipulation of
state self-compassion), a performance task (i.e., the
ATTA), and the completion of some questionnaires.
Instructions for the writing task were verbally adminis-
tered and it was thus deemed best to randomly assign ses-
sions, rather than individuals to writing conditions. As it
turned out, such procedures resulted in a slightly higher
proportion of individuals assigned to the self-compassion
condition (n¼50) relative to the control condition
(n¼36), but the important point is that participants were
randomly assigned to condition nonetheless.
After completing the writing task, which was inter-
rupted at 10 min for both conditions, participants were
told that they would then complete a very different task
(i.e., the creative performance task). Following manual-
based procedures, individuals were given 3 min for each
of the three ATTA activities, for a total of 9 min. Upon
completion of the ATTA, mood states were assessed.
Finally, individual differences in self-judgment were
assessed. Such procedures precluded the possibility that
reporting on mood and=or one’s personality tendencies
could affect ATTA performance in an order-effect man-
ner (Robinson, 2007). In support of such procedures,
the self-compassion manipulation did not inﬂuence trait
self-judgment scores, F<1, and results involving mood
states will be reported below.
From the ATTA test of creative performance, ﬂuency
scores averaged 11.08 (SD ¼3.60) and originality scores
averaged 6.07 (SD ¼3.54). Fluency and originality
scores exhibited a slight positive correlation, but one
that was not signiﬁcant, r¼.13, p>.20. This ﬁnding is
in accordance with the creative performance literature
(Runco, 2008). None of the predictors—the manipu-
lation, individual differences in critical self-judgment,
or their interaction—were informative in understanding
ATTA ﬂuency scores, ps>.70. Thus, the ﬁndings
reported in the following are speciﬁc to the originality
of ATTA responses, as hypothesized.
Hypotheses Involving Originality
The self-compassion manipulation was hypothesized to
facilitate creative originality particularly among
self-critical individuals. To set the stage for the relevant
analysis, a dummy-coded variable was created for the
self-compassion manipulation (1¼control condition;
þ1¼self-compassion condition). Then, individual differ-
ences in critical self-judgment tendencies were z-scored.
Finally, an interaction term was created by multiplying
these standardized predictors.
Predictions were assessed in a hierarchical multiple
regression, with creative originality scores as the depen-
dent measure. Step 1 of the regression entered the two
main effect predictors simultaneously. Neither the
self-compassion manipulation, t¼1.19, Beta ¼.13,
p¼.24, nor trait variations in levels of self-judgment,
t¼1.1, Beta ¼.12, p¼.27, were signiﬁcant predic-
tors. Step 2 of the regression then entered the (manipu-
lation trait) interaction term. As hypothesized, there
was an interaction among these variables and it
explained a signiﬁcant proportion of variance in creative
originality not explained by the step 1 main effect pre-
dictors, t¼2.30, Fchange ¼5.29, Beta ¼.24, p<.05.
290 ZABELINA AND ROBINSON
Thus, the manipulation facilitated creative originality
particularly among some individuals relative to others.
To determine the nature of the interactive pattern, esti-
mated originality scores for individuals low (1SD) versus
high (þ1SD) in critical self-judgment for each condition
were separately computed. The resulting estimated
means are displayed in Figure 1. As shown there, the
lowest levels of originality were observed among
self-judgmental individuals in the control condition.
By contrast, it appeared that the induction of self-
compassion was particularly conducive to creative orig-
inality among such highly self-judgmental individuals.
To further understand the interactive pattern
observed, several follow-up analyses were conducted.
To determine the effects of the manipulation at low
versus high levels of self-judgment, a median split
procedure was performed. Among individuals below the
median in tendencies toward critical self-judgment, there
was no effect of the self-compassion manipulation, F<1.
However, for individuals high (i.e., above the median) in
such self-judgmental tendencies, the self-compassion
manipulation facilitated creative originality, F¼5.21,
p<.05. Thus, the results indicate that there are beneﬁts
to a self-compassionate mindset, but particularly so to
the extent that one is generally self-judgmental.
It was hypothesized that tendencies toward critical
self-judgment would undermine the originality of cre-
ative output, but particularly so in the absence of an
induced self-compassionate mindset. To assess such
predictions, trait and originality scores were correlated,
separately so for each condition. As predicted, in the
absence of a manipulation of self-compassion, trait
tendencies toward critical self-judgment were a strong
inverse predictor of creative originality, r¼.44, p<.01.
On the other hand, there was no such correlation in
the self-compassion induction condition, r¼.09,
p>.50. These results again reafﬁrm the value of a
self-compassionate mindset for those generally prone
Potential sex differences were examined in a multiple
regression in which the manipulation, critical self-
judgment tendencies, sex (1¼male; þ1¼female),
and all interaction terms were simultaneously regressed
in the prediction of originality scores. There was no
main effect for sex, p>.40. Two-way interactions
involving participant sex were also nonsigniﬁcant,
ps>.05. Of most importance, there was no hint of a
three-way interaction, p>.35. Thus, the interactive
results reported in Figure 1 were equally characteristic
of men and women.
Results Involving Mood States
Creative performance varies by mood states, though in a
complicated manner (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008).
The present hypotheses were not of this mood-related
type. In fact, self-compassion and self-criticism are not
viewed in mood related terms, but rather in terms of
the extent to which negative events and experiences
stymie the self and its creative potential (Germer,
2009; Leary et al., 2007). Accordingly, results were
hypothesized to be independent of potential mood-
The self-compassion manipulation (1¼control
condition;þ1¼self-compassion condition) used in this
study did not inﬂuence mood states, p>.35. Addition-
ally, self-judgmental individuals did not report more
unpleasant mood states, p>.90. Independent of these
predictors, more positive mood states were not predic-
tive of higher levels of creativity originality, p>.30.
Finally, there was no interaction of the manipulation
and self-judgment tendencies in predicting mood states,
p>.95. Thus, the results reported above are inde-
pendent of mood-related considerations.
Implications Related to Self-Compassion
A small but growing literature has suggested that a
self-compassionate mindset may be generally beneﬁcial
to optimal functioning (e.g., Neff, 2003a; Neff et al.,
2005). Yet, the outcomes examined have been almost
if not exclusively self-reported in nature. Our dependent
measure—original creative performance—was of an
objectively-scored, rather than self-reported, type.
For this reason, the study’s results encourage a wider
consideration of the potential value that a self-
compassionate mindset may play in other behavioral
realms in which inhibitory self-related processes have
been implicated (Carver & White, 1994; Kagan &
Snidman, 1991; Kruglanski & Chun, 2008; Pyszczynski,
FIGURE 1 Creative originality as a function of chronic tendencies
toward self-judgment and manipulated states of self-compassion.
SELF-COMPASSION FACILITATES CREATIVE ORIGINALITY 291
Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004; Steele,
The effects of the self-compassion manipulation in
this study can be considered from two perspectives.
Because this induction facilitated creative output among
some individuals, but did not undermine it among
others, it appears that inductions of this type may be
generally efﬁcacious in removing some of the barriers
to uncensored output generally thought to undermine
original creative thinking (Cropley, 2001). On the other
hand, because the manipulation interacted with more
general tendencies toward critical self-judgment, it
appears that only some individuals are likely to beneﬁt
from inductions of this type. Such interactive results
are intuitive because only self-judgmental individuals
are likely to self-impose restrictions to their creative out-
put, and it is for this reason that only such individuals
are likely to beneﬁt from a manipulation designed to
remove such self-imposed restrictions.
The variables examined in this study were predictive
of creative originally, but not its ﬂuency. In understand-
ing this dissociation, higher levels of creative ﬂuency can
be achieved in either conventional or original terms
(Runco, 2008). For this reason, ﬂuency, per se, is rela-
tively uninformative in understanding original thinking
of the sort most emphasized by creativity researchers
(Goff & Torrance, 2002; Torrance, 1974). Instead, the
production of original thoughts in creativity tasks is
likely to require some degree of risk-taking (Tierney &
Farmer, 2002). Self-compassion and self-criticism, it is
suggested, are particularly relevant in understanding
whether the individual can ignore the self-censure often
proposed to be inimical to original creative thinking
(Cropley, 2001; Kashdan, Rose, & Fincham, 2004;
Questions and Further Research Directions
The state of self-compassion theoretically involves
self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness
(Neff, 2003b). This conjunction of qualities has been
supported in psychometric terms (Neff, 2003a). Never-
theless, as research on such manipulations develops, it
may be important to differentiate these three purported
mechanisms (Leary et al., 2007). Self-judgmental ten-
dencies were assessed in terms of Neff’s (2003a) relevant
trait scale, but could be assessed in terms of tendencies
toward perfectionism as well, potentially in a multi-
dimensional manner (e.g., Frost, Marten, Lahart, &
Rosenblatt, 1990). Finally, it would be valuable to
extend our results by assessing relations between
self-criticism, self-compassion, and creative behaviors
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