We investigated the relationship between mindfulness and compassion in a broader way than is typically done by (a) using a recent, comprehensive conceptualization of mindfulness as a manifold of self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence, and (b) by casting a wide net of compassion measures [i.e., the Compassionate Love for Humanity Scale (Sprecher and Fehr in J Soc Pers Relatsh 22(5):629–651, 2005); Compassion Scale (Martins et al. in J Health Care Poor Underserved 24:1235–1246, 2013); Compassion Scale (Pommier in Assessment 27:21–39, 2020); Relational Compassion Scale (Hacker in The relational compassion scale: Development and validation of a new self-rated scale for the assessment of self-other compassion, University of Glasgow, 2008); and the SOCS-O scale (Gu et al. in Clin Psychol Rev 37:1–12, 2020)]. Additionally, we examined the interplay between mindfulness, compassion, and ethical sensitivities by assessing the influence of the moral foundations (individualizing and binding) on compassion, and the influence of mindfulness, the moral foundations, and compassion on awareness of privilege.
We surveyed 407 undergraduate students. Factor analysis was used to examine the dimensionality of the compassion measures; path analysis to examine the relationships between all variables.
Factor analysis revealed distinct affective (empathy, indifference), cognitive (common humanity, recognizing suffering), and motivational (willingness to act) aspects of compassion. Mindfulness, under its aspects of reflective awareness, self-compassion, and self-transcendence, was associated with compassion, with reflective awareness predicting multiple aspects of compassion over and beyond the normal mechanisms of the mindfulness manifold and the moral foundations. Individualizing was associated with all aspects of compassion; binding was only connected to recognizing suffering and a willingness to act. Awareness of privilege was positively connected to mindfulness through individualizing and the recognition of common humanity; it was also directly negatively related to the moral foundation of binding.
Mindfulness and compassion have synergistic and distinct positive effects on ethical sensitivities. Given that both compassion and ethical sensitivities have roots in mindfulness, mindfulness interventions might be one possible venue to enhance these positive aspects of individuals’ psychology.