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Compassion at the mirror: Exposure to a mirror increases the efficacy of a self-compassion manipulation in enhancing soothing positive affect and heart rate variability

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We tested whether a mirror could enhance the efficacy of a self-compassion manipulation in increasing soothing positive affect and heart rate variability (HRV). Eighty-six participants generated four phrases they would use to soothe and encourage their best friend. Second, they described an episode where they criticized themselves and were assigned to one of three conditions: (a) repeat the four phrases to themselves while looking at the mirror; (b) repeat the four phrases to themselves without the mirror; (c) look at themselves in the mirror without repeating the phrases. Participants in condition (a) reported higher levels of ‘soothing’ positive affect and HRV compared to participants in conditions (b) and (c). The effect of the ‘phrases at the mirror’ manipulation on soothing affect was mediated by increased common humanity. The mirror enhances the efficacy of this self-compassion manipulation in activating the soothing affect system connected with parasympathetic nervous system activity.
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Compassion at the mirror: Exposure to a mirror
increases the efficacy of a self-compassion
manipulation in enhancing soothing positive affect
and heart rate variability
Nicola Petrocchi , Cristina Ottaviani & Alessandro Couyoumdjian
To cite this article: Nicola Petrocchi , Cristina Ottaviani & Alessandro Couyoumdjian (2017)
Compassion at the mirror: Exposure to a mirror increases the efficacy of a self-compassion
manipulation in enhancing soothing positive affect and heart rate variability, The Journal of Positive
Psychology, 12:6, 525-536, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1209544
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1209544
Published online: 14 Jul 2016.
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THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, 2017
VOL. 12, NO. 6, 525536
https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1209544
Compassion at the mirror: Exposure to a mirror increases the ecacy of a self-
compassion manipulation in enhancing soothing positive aect and heart rate
variability
Nicola Petrocchia,b, Cristina Ottavianib and Alessandro Couyoumdjiana
aDepartment of Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy; bIRCCS Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy
ABSTRACT
We tested whether a mirror could enhance the ecacy of a self-compassion manipulation in
increasing soothing positive aect and heart rate variability (HRV). Eighty-six participants generated
four phrases they would use to soothe and encourage their best friend. Second, they described an
episode where they criticized themselves and were assigned to one of three conditions: (a) repeat
the four phrases to themselves while looking at the mirror; (b) repeat the four phrases to themselves
without the mirror; (c) look at themselves in the mirror without repeating the phrases. Participants
in condition (a) reported higher levels of ‘soothing’ positive aect and HRV compared to participants
in conditions (b) and (c). The eect of the ‘phrases at the mirror’ manipulation on soothing aect was
mediated by increased common humanity. The mirror enhances the ecacy of this self-compassion
manipulation in activating the soothing aect system connected with parasympathetic nervous
system activity.
Introduction
Self-criticism has been dened as an integrated system
of beliefs, emotions and attitudes that people might acti-
vate towards themselves mainly in response to failures or
setbacks (Gilbert, 2005; Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). This
process often takes the form of negative and coercive self-
talk and inner hostile voices, which stimulate the same
neurophysiological systems as criticism generated by oth-
ers (Gilbert, Baldwin, Irons, Baccus, & Palmer, 2006; Longe
et al., 2010). As a result of the self-harassing dynamic,
highly self-critical individuals are thought to have an
over-stimulated and poorly regulated threat emotional
system, with subsequent negative aectivity and under-
developed capacities for compassionate self-soothing
activities (thoughts, self-talk and images; Gilbert & Procter,
2006). Even if self-monitoring and self-correcting activi-
ties are normal components of non-clinical psychological
functioning, more severe forms of self-criticism have been
examined as a vulnerability risk factor for most psycho-
pathological conditions (for a review see Schanche, 2013).
Several therapeutic approaches, such as Compassion
Focused Therapy (CFT; Gilbert, 2010, 2014) and Mindful
Self-Compassion training (MSC; Ne & Germer, 2013), have
been developed with the aim of increasing compassion
and self-compassion as an antidote to self-criticism. The
primary aim of these approaches is to increase acceptance
and compassion for one’s own distress, and to strengthen
the ability to refocus and consciously activate ‘safeness
self-signaling systems (Boersma, Håkanson, Salomonsson,
& Johansson, 2014). These self-soothing activities oper-
ate through the stimulation of particular types of positive
aect (contentment, safeness, lovability, serenity) associ-
ated with the attachment and caring motivational systems.
Physiologically, they are connected to increased activity
of the vagus nerve and corresponding higher heart rate
variability (Porges, 2007). These types of warm positive
feelings have been found to be distinct from energizing
positive aect (happiness, excitement, enthusiasm) associ-
ated with achievement, excitement and resource seeking
(Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005; Gilbert etal., 2008;
Panksepp, 1998). It is the safeness and contentment types
of positive aect that have been specically linked to less
depression, anxiety and self-criticism, as well as more
self-reassurance and attachment secureness (Gilbert etal.,
2008; Kelly, Zuro, Leybman, & Gilbert, 2012). Thus, stimu-
lating the capacity for feeling a positive sense of content-
ment, safeness, and self-reassurance is the primary goal
of compassion-oriented interventions (Germer, 2009;
Gilbert, 2010).
One of the practices employed in CFT and other com-
passion-focused trainings is ‘compassionate self-talk’
(Gilbert, 2010). Subjects are asked to become aware of
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
KEYWORDS
Self-criticism; self-
compassion; heart rate
variability; mirror; self-talk;
self-awareness
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 31 December 2015
Accepted 14 June 2016
CONTACT Nicola Petrocchi nicola.petrocchi@uniroma1.it
526 N. PETROCCHI ET AL.
exposure tool has been extensively documented in the
treatment of eating disorders (see, e.g. Hildebrandt, Loeb,
Troupe, & Delinsky, 2012). It is also currently employed to
improve positive self-awareness and self-representation in
subjects diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (Du
& Flattery, 2014). Mahoney (1991) has described a tech-
nique in which clients are asked to look at themselves in
a mirror while spontaneously describing their experience,
with the goals of enhancing clients’ self-exploration and
facilitating the emergence of a new ‘dialoguing with one
self’ (Williams, Diehl, & Mahoney, 2002, p. 23). There is some
evidence that this technique improves awareness of the
current emotional experience (Williams etal., 2002) and
self-acceptance (Beskow & Palm, 1998).
A similar technique, called ‘self-mirroring’ has been
recently described by Vinali etal. (2015): patients are asked
to watch a video of their face while recalling a signicant
life event. The video recording is supposed to ‘mirror’ their
emotions and appraisal patterns, improving patients’ abil-
ity to recognize and compassionately empathize with their
own emotional distress.
The present study
Given these preliminary results that both compassionate
self-talk and the mirror may positively impact self-relating,
we hypothesized that the eects of compassionate self-
talk might be amplied by performing this exercise in
front of a mirror. The repetition of positive armations in
front of a mirror as a way to increase self-acceptance has
been extensively described and recommended for years in
numerous ‘pop psychology’ books, websites, and self-help
resources (see, e.g. Hay, 1991; Hay House, 2015), but to the
best of our knowledge, it has never been empirically tested.
Moreover, Gilbert (2010) suggested that self-compassion
practices involving the repetition of self-compassionate
phrases might be potentiated by the use of a mirror as
a way to ‘externalize the ‘object’ of our compassion (i.e.
the self). In fact, eye-gaze and facial expressions are
salient components of our empathic responses (Cowan,
Vanman, & Nielsen, 2014). Considering that self-related
stimuli (e.g. our own face) are more relevant to us than
stimuli related to others (Brédart, Delchambre, & Laureys,
2006), and that the sense of self seems to be inherently
linked to one’s own face (Porciello etal., 2014), looking
at our own eyes and face while experiencing compassion
towards ourselves might impact our psychophysiology
more than just verbalizing self-compassionate phrases.
Moreover, empathetic processes are supported by, and
require, the embodied expression and communication of
emotions that only the face provides (Cole, 2001). Thus,
wehypothesized that the use of a self-reection tool might
improve our ability to empathize alsowith ourselves.
the content and emotional tone of their ‘internal dialogue’
when they face setbacks, and to consciously render it
more compassionate, encouraging and non- judgmentally
accepting of the self. Intentionally creating compassion-
ate self-statements after a self-criticism induction has
proven to be eective in increasing positive aect, without
undermining people’s willingness to accept responsibility
for the negative actions, and in improving perception of
similarity to other people (common humanity; Leary, Tate,
Adams, Allen, & Hancock, 2007). It has also shown ecacy
in lowering shame and depression (Kelly, Zuro, & Shapira,
2009), increasing self-improvement motivation, and boost-
ing willingness to make amends and avoid repeating a
moral transgression (Breines & Chen, 2012). Creating
and reading aloud positive self-statements, instead of
neutral self-statements, has been shown to reduce self-
deprecatory thoughts and increase self-esteem in a group
of low self-esteem subjects (Lange, Richard, Gest, Vries, &
Lodder, 1998). It has also been considered as an impor-
tant aid for the treatment of emotional disorders (Lange,
Richard, Kiestra, & van Oostendorp, 1997). Evidence seems
to suggest that this intervention could be improved by the
use of a mirror.
The mirror as a psychotherapeutic tool
The capacity of the mirror to induce a state of self-focused
attention has made it the object of investigation in the
research eld on self-awareness and self-focusing (Silvia,
2002). According to objective self-awareness theory, when
individuals are in a state of self-awareness (for example,
when they are exposed to their mirror reection), they
tend to compare themselves to their standards (Duval
& Wicklund, 1972). Self-to-standard comparison often
brings unfavorable results, activating negative emotions
as a result.
However, results regarding the aversive nature of
self-focused attention induced by mirror exposure have
not always been consistent. In fact, research has shown
that exposure to a mirror can reduce self-critical eval-
uations. For example, Hofmann and Heinrichs (2002)
asked undergraduate college students to record three
self positive and three self negative attributes after sit-
ting in front of a mirror for 5min. Individuals with prior
mirror exposure showed a greater balance between pos-
itive and negative self-statements, and fewer self-critical
statements concerning non-socially relevant personality
characteristics, than participants without previous mir-
ror exposure. In a later study, Hofmann and Heinrichs
(2003) replicated these ndings with social anxiety dis-
order patients.
The mirror has also been applied in the treatment of
dierent psychopathological conditions. Its use as an
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 527
Specically,we predicted that repeating self-compas-
sionate phrases in front of a mirror after a brief induction of
self-criticism would produce a higher increase in positive
aect (in particular, the ‘soothing’ positive aect linked
to increased self-reassurance and safeness) compared to
repeating the phrases without the mirror, or to just looking
at the mirror without repeating the phrases.
However, the repetition of the phrases at the mirror
was not expected to increase activated positive aect. In
fact, compassion-focused interventions are specically
designed to increase soothing positive aect (Gilbert etal.,
2008; Kelly etal., 2012).
Research has reported mixed ndings regarding the
impact of compassion-focused interventions on nega-
tive aect: some studies have documented decreased
negative aect in response to the intervention (Gilbert &
Procter, 2006; Ne & Germer, 2013), while other stud-
ies have reported no specic eects on negative aect
(Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm, & Singer, 2013; Odou & Brinker,
2015). Given these mixed ndings, no specic predictions
were formulated as to the eect of the intervention on
negative aect.
Given that increased HRV is specically connected to
the emotional state of compassion and not to positive
aect in general (Stellar, Cohen, Oveis, & Keltner, 2015),
we also expected that HRV would increase in the ‘phrases
at the mirror’ condition more than in the other two condi-
tions, in line with the increase in soothing positive aect
expected in that condition.
It was also hypothesized that the effect of repeating
the phrases in front of a mirror would be partially medi-
ated by an increase in common humanity, a component
of self-compassion (Neff, 2003) which reflects how ‘not
so abnormal and shameful’ we apprise our defects and
suffering, and how able we are to remind ourselves that
thoughts and feelings of inadequacy are shared by most
people. Data have shown that increased self-awareness,
induced also by mirror exposure (Hofmann & Heinrichs,
2002, 2003), is positively linked to theory of mind, which
is the ability to understand that others, similar to us,
have complex mental states (beliefs, desires, emotions,
knowledge, etc.) and, consequently, share with us the
same potential for suffering (Keenan, Gallup, & Falk,
2003). Following this line of reasoning, we hypothe-
sized that the state of self-awareness generated by mir-
ror exposure might strengthen the de-shaming effect
of the self-compassion phrases, by fostering a sense of
‘not-aloneness’ in our shortcoming, and of belonging
to a shared human vulnerability to suffering and the
causes of it.
The mirror, helping subjects to have an ‘external view’
of themselves and their issues, was expected to improve
this dimension and, as a consequence, to increase the level
of compassionate feelings experienced toward their own
suering.
Method
Participants
The sample was composed of 43 men and 47 women,
mean age 26.34years (SD=7.8) recruited from the gen-
eral population. Four subjects were not included in the
analyses due to unreliable physiological measures, leaving
a sample of 86 participants (40 men). Recruitment was con-
ducted through yers, websites, and social networks. All
subjects were Caucasian and native Italian speaking. Data
on income or socioeconomic status of participants were
not collected. Exclusionary criteria were major psychiatric
or cognitive problems, psychotic or organic illnesses, sub-
stance abuse, cardiovascular disease, use of drugs/medi-
cations that might aect cardiovascular function, obesity
(body mass index> 30kg/m2), menopause, use of oral
contraceptives during the previous 6months, and preg-
nancy or childbirth within the last 12months. The protocol
was approved by the local Ethics Committee.
Design and procedure
Participants were asked to refrain from (a) eating, (b) drink-
ing alcohol, tea or coee, and (c) strenuous exercise 2h
preceding the scheduled appointment. The experiment
was conducted as a randomized group comparison design.
In order to obscure the focus on self-compassion and
self-criticism and reduce the likelihood of biased ratings
on mood items, participants were told that the aim of the
study was to test for eects of dierent interventions on
dierent types of thoughts and feelings.
The experimental phase took place in a one-to-one ses-
sion in a small quiet oce. After being informed about
the procedure, participants provided informed consent,
were asked to sit in front a computer monitor, and were
hooked up with the electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes.
The initial steps of the experimental procedure were the
same for all three conditions. Participants were rst asked
to relax for 5 min while leang through a magazine with
neutral content in order to acquire a baseline ECG record-
ing. They were then asked to rate their momentary aect
using visual analogue scales (VASs at Time 1 – Baseline; see
Section ‘Measures for more details). All participants were
then instructed by a 2min audio recording to generate
and write four compassionate phrases. The instructions
were as follows:
I am now going to ask you to imagine that one of your
dearest friends is experiencing an upsetting situation,
which involves some kind of rejection, disappointment
or failure, and that he/she is very self-critical about it.
528 N. PETROCCHI ET AL.
experimental manipulation was followed by a nal assess-
ment of momentary aect (using VASs) and common
humanity feelings (Time 3). At this point, participants in
all conditions were also asked to rate how closely they
were able to follow the manipulation instructions (from
0=completely unable to 4=completely able) and how
dicult it was for them to follow the manipulation instruc-
tions (from 0=very dicult to 4=very easy). Participants
in condition c) were also asked if, during the mirror expo-
sure, they repeated the phrases previously created (yes/no)
or if they engaged in some kind of conscious and active
compassionate self-talk (yes/no).
Finally, participants were debriefed and oered profes-
sional counseling in case of any emotional distress caused
by the experiment.
Dispositional questionnaires and questions regarding
habits (‘how often and for how long do you look at yourself
in the mirror in a typical day?’; see the Section ‘Measures’
for more details) were administered after the experimental
procedure (to obscure the goal of the experiment), using
QuestionPro survey website. A web link for the online sur-
vey was sent to participants via email after the completion
of the experimental procedure. See Figure 1 for a ow chart
of the procedure.
Measures
Dispositional measures
Socio-demographic and personal information
Participants were asked to complete a socio-demographic
form, which included items regarding gender, age, level
of education, height and weight for BMI calculation, and
smoking habits (‘are you a smoker?’ Yes/No).
Depression
The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale
(CES-D; Radlo, 1977) was administered. The CES-D is a
20-item self-report scale that assesses the frequency of
occurrence of symptoms of depression during the past
week. In this study internal consistency was α=0.91.
Anxiety
The Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory – Trait
Form (STAI; Spielberger, Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1970) was
employed. STAI-Trait is a 20-item self-report measure of
anxiety proneness that requires participants to rate their
frequency of anxiety symptoms. In this study internal con-
sistency was α=0.93.
Trait self-criticism, self-attacking, and self-reassuring
The Forms of Self-criticizing/attacking and Self-reassuring
Scale (FSCRS; Gilbert, Clarke, Hempel, Miles, & Irons, 2004)
Please write four phrases thatyou would use to soothe
and encourage him/her, and that express compassion,
understanding, and unconditional acceptance for your
friend and for the part of the self that he/she dislikes.
Instructions for generating compassion-focused phrases
were based on descriptions of this method as detailed by
Gilbert (2010).
This was followed by the induction of self-critical nega-
tive emotions: participants were asked to think about and
write a detailed description (5 min) of a recent episode in
which they harshly criticized themselves, or felt ashamed
and disappointed by themselves. Then, the aect VASs
were administered again (Time 2). State level of common
humanity feelings regarding the content of their self-criti-
cism episode was also assessed at this point (see Measures
section for more details).
Subsequently, participants were randomly assigned
to 1 of 3 experimental conditions where they had to: (1)
repeat the four phrases to themselves while looking at a
mirror (n=30), (2) repeat the four phrases to themselves
without a mirror (n=28); or (3) look at themselves in a
mirror without repeating the phrases (n=28). Instructions
were delivered through a 3 min audio recording. The
Figure 1.Flow chart of the experimental procedure.
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 529
State common humanity
At Time 2 and Time 3, participants were asked to rate, on
a 7-point Likert scale, four items adapted from the com-
mon humanity subscale of the Self-compassion Scale
(Ne, 2003), to assess the current level of this dimension
regarding the content of the self-criticism episode. The
four items were: ‘In this moment, I see my failings as part of
the human condition’, ‘In this moment, I feel that there are
lots of other people in the world experiencing failures and
imperfections’, ‘In this moment, my aws and inadequacies
make me feel more separate and cut o from the rest of
the world’ and ‘In this moment, I feel alone in my failure
and feelings of inadequacy’. After reversing the scores of
the two negative items, the mean of the four items was
computed and employed in subsequent analyses. Internal
consistency for this parcel was α=0.79.
Psychophysiological measures
The electrocardiogram (ECG) was continuously monitored
(Monitoring, Adatec s.r.l., Italy) throughout the experiment
with a standard electrode conguration (right clavicle and
precordial site V6). Three disposable Ag- AgCl electrodes
were used. The ECG signal was digitized at 1000Hz and
inspected oine using Monitoring software (Adatec s.r.l.,
Italy). Successive R waves (identied by an automatic beat
detection algorithm) were visually inspected, and any
irregularities were edited. Heart rate and a time domain
measure of HRV (Root Mean Square Successive Dierence;
RMSSD) were then obtained for baseline, induction,
and each experimental condition using HRV Analysis
Software (Niskanen, Tarvainen, Ranta-Aho, & Karjalainen,
2004). According to the Task Force guidelines, the RMSSD
reects the integrity of vagus nerve-mediated autonomic
control of the heart (Task Force of the European Society
of Cardiology & the North American Society of Pacing &
Electrophysiology, 1996).
Data analyses
The analyses were carried out using SPSS Version 21. Only
signicant (p<0.05) results are reported. To control for
the presence of preexisting baseline dierences between
the three experimental subgroups, a series of one-way
Analyses of Variance (ANOVAs) were computed on all the
dispositional (socio-demographic variables and trait ques-
tionnaires), state (NA, activated PA, soothing PA, and state
common humanity) and physiological measures (HR and
HRV).
We tested for the eectiveness of the self-criticism
induction (manipulation check) by comparing all out-
come measures (NA, activated PA, soothing PA, HR and
HRV) at T1 and T2 using Bonferroni corrected paired
t-tests.
was employed. The scale consists of 22 items assessing the
way people ‘treat themselves’ when things go wrong. This
measure is composed by three dimensions: inadequate
self, which assesses feelings of inadequacy and a sense
of frustration towards the self; hated self, which assesses
a feeling of self-hate and desire to hurt the self; and reas-
sured self, which indicates the ability to be self-soothing
and reassuring when facing failures. In the present study
Cronbach’s α for the Hated-Self scale was 0.80, for the
Reassured-Self scale was 0.88, and for the Inadequate-Self
scale was 0.93.
Trait self-consciousness and social anxiety
The Self-Consciousness Scale Revised (Scheier & Carver,
1985) was employed to assess dispositional private and
public self-consciousness, and social anxiety. In the pres-
ent study Cronbach’s α for the Private self-consciousness
scale was 0.83, for the Public self-consciousness scale was
0.84, and for the Social anxiety scale was 0.86.
Other stable features
Questions regarding perceived pleasantness of the face (1
item, rated on a 7-point Likert scale), minutes spent in front
of the mirror every day (1 item, rated on a 7-point Likert
scale), and perceived pleasantness of the voice (1 item, rated
on a 7-point Likert scale) were also included.
State measures
Visual analogue scales – VASs
At Time 1 (baseline), Time 2 (after the self-criticism induc-
tion), and Time 3 (after the experimental manipulation),
participants were asked to rate their current levels of neg-
ative and positive aect on several visual analogue 100-
point scales (VAS). The VAS is a measure of aect intensity
that is valid for registering short-term changes in aect
(Albersnagel, 1988). Negative aect (NA) was assessed
by four emotions related to the self-criticism induction
(ashamed, disgusted with themselves, guilty, angry at
themselves).
The activated and the soothing positive aect were
assessed by two subscales of the Activation and Safe/
Content Aect Scale (Gilbert et al., 2008). Four items
with the highest factorial loading of the activated posi-
tive aect (lively, energetic, excited, enthusiastic) and the
soothing positive aect (safe, secure, content, warm) were
chosen.
Given their high internal consistency (Cronbach’s α for
negative aect=0.82; activated positive aect: α=0.76;
soothing positive aect: α = 0.73), responses to items
belonging to the same aect system were aggregated
to compute the mean. These three items’ parcels will be
referred to as ‘NA’, ‘activated PA’, and ‘soothing PA’.
530 N. PETROCCHI ET AL.
recommended cut-o points (Kline, 1998), consistent with
the assumption of approximate normal distributions.
Initial data screening revealed no signicant base-
line dierences at trait and state measures at Time 1 (all
ps>0.05). Chi-square tests showed no dierences between
the three groups for gender (p=0.07) and smoking habits
(p=0.06). However, the three groups showed a dierence in
age, F(2,83) = 3.86, p<0.05: participants in the ‘mirror-only’
group were signicantly younger than those in the ‘phrases
at the mirror’ group (see Table 1 for means, standard devi-
ations and statistics). Moreover, the three groups diered
on level of education, F(2,83) = 4.44, p<0.05: the ‘phrases
only’ participants had a signicantly higher level of educa-
tion than those in the ‘phrases at the mirror’ group. Thus,
age and level of education were included as covariates in
all following analyses. The assumption of homogeneity of
variances and homogeneity of regression slopes was met
for all the dependent variables.
Eect of self-criticism induction
Bonferroni corrected paired t-tests indicated that NA sig-
nicantly increased from Time 1 (before the self-criticism
induction) to Time 2 (after the self-criticism induction) (all
ps<0.001). The activated PA, and the soothing PA, signi-
cantly decreased from T1 to T2 (all p<0.001). Furthermore,
HR increased and HRV decreased from T1 to T2. The induc-
tion can therefore be considered eective in increasing
negative aect connected to self-criticism, and in reducing
positive aect, with associated increase in HR and decrease
in HRV (see Table 2).
Eect of experimental manipulation
GLM results showed a main eect of Time on all dependent
variables, except for HR and HRV. Negative aect signi-
cantly decreased from T2 to T3 (all ps<0.01; see Table 2 for
means, standard deviations, and statistics). The activated
PA and the soothing PA, signicantly increased from T2 to
T3 (all ps<0.05).
A signicant Time × Group interaction emerged for
the soothing PA (see Figure 2) and for HRV, (see Figure 3).
To test for the eects of our experimental manipula-
tion, a series of 3 × 3 General Linear Models (GLMs) with
Group (phrases at the mirror vs phrases without the mirror
vs mirror without phrases) as a between subject variable,
Time (Time 1, Time 2, Time 3) as a within subject variable,
and Gender as covariate were conducted on NA, activated
PA, soothing PA, HR and HRV. Partial eta-squared (η
2
) were
calculated to quantify the eect sizes.
Then, bootstrapping tests of mediation were performed
using the Preacher and Hayes (2008) PROCESS macro with
5000 bootstrap samples. This approach provides unstand-
ardized betas for the indirect eect estimates, and the
corresponding 95% bias-corrected and accelerated con-
dence intervals. If the values between the upper and
lower condence limits do not include zero, this indicates
a statistically signicant mediation eect. In this study, the
independent variable was Group, the dependent variables
were the change score from Time 2 to Time 3 of outcome
variables that showed a signicant Group × Time inter-
action in the previous GLMs, and the mediator was the
change score in state common humanity from Time 2 to
Time 3.
To control for dierences between how closely partic-
ipants followed the instructions and how dicult it was
for them, one-way ANOVAs with Bonferroni post hoc cor-
rection were computed on these two items between the
three experimental subgroups (see Section ‘Design and
Procedure’ for more details).
Results
Preliminary analyses and group dierences at
baseline
Twelve univariate outliers were found. However, consid-
ering the little dierence existing between mean and 5%
trimmed mean, all outliers were considered as not distort-
ing data and, therefore, included in the main analyses. No
multivariate outliers were found using the Mahalanobis
statistic. Based on examination of the Kolmogorov–
Smirnov and Shapiro–Wilk statistic, several variables were
not normally distributed. However, Skewness’ and Kurtosis’
values were not severely biased, as these were below the
Table 1.Mean scores, standard deviations and statistics for age, level of education and body mass index. Only significant statistics are
reported.
Note: Level of education scores: 0 = Junior high school; 1 = Senior high school; 2 = Bachelor’s degree; 3 = Master’s degree, 4 = Doctoral degree or a second-level
Master’s degree, ns = non significant.
Phrases at the mirror Group M (SD) Phrases only Group M (SD) Mirror only Group M (SD) Statistics
Age 29.10a26.10 23.5ba > b
(4.03) (3.3) (3.2) p < 0.01
Level of education 2.5a3.1b2.7 b > a
(0.63) (0.56) (0.62) p < 0.05
BMI (kg/m2) 21.82 21.50 22.01 ns
(1.1) (1.2) (1.1)
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 531
Gender was not a signicant covariate in both models. Post
hoc Bonferroni corrected analyses showed no dierences
between the 3 groups at Time 1 and the Time 2. However,
at Time three there were statistically signicant dier-
ences in the soothing PA, F(2, 81) = 5.8, p<0.01, partial
η2=0.12 and HRV, F(2, 81) = 4.7, p=0.012, partial η2=0.97.
Bonferroni corrected pairwise comparisons showed that
the ‘phrases at the mirror’ group scored signicantly higher
than the other two groups on both the soothing PA and
HRV (see Table 2 for means, standard deviations, and sta-
tistics). No other signicant dierences emerged.
Mediating eect of common humanity
Two distinct bootstrapping tests of mediation were
performed, with Group as the independent variable,
change score in common humanity from Time 2 to Time
3 as a mediator, and the soothing PA and HRV change
scores from Time 2 to Time 3 as the dependent variables,
respectively.
Overall, the model with change score in soothing PA
as the dependent variable accounted for 19.4% of its
variance. Importantly, the indirect eect of group on the
dependent variable (via score increase in common human-
ity) was signicant (B=−1.47; CI [−3.89, −0.09]), suggesting
that increases in common humanity mediated the eect
of Group on the soothing PA increases. In addition, results
indicated that the direct eect of Group on the dependent
variable remained signicant (B=−5.52, CI [−9.5, −1.53])
when the mediator was included in the model, thus sug-
gesting a partial mediation (see Figure 4 for unstandard-
ized coecients).
The model with HRV change score as the dependent
variable accounted for 12.8% of its variance. However, the
indirect eect of Group on the dependent variable (via
score increase in common humanity) was not signicant
(B=−1.08; CI [−3.63, 0.07]), suggesting that score increase
Figure 2. Time × Group interaction for the ‘soothing positive
affect’ VASs.
Table 2.Mean scores, standard deviations, and statistics of affect systems (VASs), common humanity, HR, and HRV (RMSSD) in the three groups before the emotion induction (T1), after the
self-criticism induction (T2), and after the intervention (T3).
Note: M & P = mirror and phrases; HR = heart rate; RMSSD = root mean square of the successive differences. Only significant statistics are reported. ns = non significant.
T1 T2 T3 Statistics
M & P M (SD) Phrases M (SD) Mirror M (SD) M & P M (SD) Phrases M (SD) Mirror M (SD) M & P M (SD) Phrases M (SD)
Mirror M
(SD)
Main eect of
time
Time × group
interaction
Negative affect 19.7 (19.4) 17.9 (18.9) 17.7 (14.4) 43.5 (17.7) 38.9 (22.2) 40.4 (18.5) 23.7 (26.3) 27.3 (25.7) 26.5 (21.1) F(4,162) = 8.04, p
< 0.01, partial η2
= 0.09
ns
Activated PA 50.9 (16.9) 49.8 (16.4) 52.4 (19.2) 35.2 (18.8) 40.6 (18.5) 42.1 (15.8) 49.3 (19.1) 45.9 (18.6) 47.4 (22.2) F(4,162) = 4.65, p
< 0.05, partial η2
= 0.05
ns
Soothing PA 50.1 (18.8) 46.6 (18.1) 47.9 (16.6) 31.6 (11.1) 32.8 (16.8) 34.3 (15.3) 56.5 (17.1) 41.5 (18.6) 44.5 (17.5) F(4,162) = 11.36, p
< 0.01, partial η2
= 0.12
F(4,162) = 6.16,
p < 0.01,
partial η2 =
0.13
Common
humanity
/ 4.75 (0.89) 4.88 (1.44) 4.97 (1.60) 5.19 (1.09) 5.06 (1.19) 4.8 (1.23) ns F(2,83) = 3.58, p
< 0.05, partial
η2 = 0.08
HR (bpm) 82.4 (7.7) 82.5 (10.6) 81.1 (11.1) 84.6 (12.4) 83.7 (10.4) 82.5 (11.4) 84.2 (7.3) 81.5 (9.6) 81.3 (9.9) ns ns
RMSSD (ms2) 66.1 (21.1) 71.4 (17.1) 69.1 (22.9) 58.1 (17.9) 58.9 (15.4) 59.07 (15.5) 81.4 (27.6) 68.6 (15.2) 67.6 (16.8) ns F(4,162) = 7.24,
p < 0.01,
partial η2 =
0.15
532 N. PETROCCHI ET AL.
& Chen, 2009). In fact, the warm and positive feelings of
safeness and contentment stemming from compassion-
ate self-relating have been shown to protect against the
depressogenic eects of shame and self-criticism (Gilbert
etal., 2008).
The main purpose of this study was to investigate
whether the ecacy of a 5-min compassionate self-talk
manipulation in augmenting positive emotions could be
enhanced by performing it in front of a mirror and direct-
ing the phrases toward participants’ own reection. As
expected, results showed that repeating the phrases in
front of the mirror enhanced the soothing positive aect
more than repeating the phrases out loud, without the
mirror, or just looking at their reection in the mirror
without repeating the phrases. The soothing aect sys-
tem is triggered by signals of social connectedness and
safeness (Carter, 1998; Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005;
Wang, 2005). Increases in this particular type of positive
aect, which is linked to the caring motivational system,
and to aliative warm relationships, are the target of all
compassion-focused interventions. Research has shown
that from birth, the brain has specialized systems that
are highly responsive to social stimuli (warm voice tones,
facial expressions, touching, and holding; Schore, 1994;
Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001), and that these social signals
are major regulators of arousal, emotions, and physiolog-
ical processes (Cacioppo, Berston, Sheridan, & McClintock,
2000). Thus, the mirror seems to be an eective addition to
the self-talk exercise because it intensies exactly the type
of positive emotions that are considered to have a major
protective eect against self-criticism and shame-based
diculties. Physiological data supported this result: HRV,
an index of adaptive emotion regulation, high levels of
‘safety-based’ positive emotions (Thayer, Åhs, Fredrikson,
Sollers, & Wager, 2012), and a physiological marker of com-
passion (Stellar etal., 2015), increased when the phrases
were repeated in front of the mirror more than in the other
two conditions.
One possible explanation for this eect is that the mir-
ror increases the quantity of positive self-relating social
signals that we can process (not only the voice but also
the reection of our facial expressions and the gaze), thus
intensifying the emotional response that these signals
tend to elicit (feeling of safeness and lovability that are
more directly conveyed by non verbal communication).
Moreover, watching our own face in the mirror strongly
activates the mirror neuron system (Platek etal., 2006;
Uddin, Kaplan, Molnar-Szakacs, Zaidel, & Iacoboni, 2005),
which, through the mechanism of ‘embodied simulation
(Gallese, 2013), facilitates a direct, pre-reexive form of
action understanding not exclusively dependent upon
mentalistic/linguistic abilities (Gallese, 2003). We can spec-
ulate that the activation of this system may have induced
in common humanity did not mediate the eect of Group
on HRV increase.
Additional analyses
There were no dierences among the three groups on how
closely participants were able to follow instructions of the
assigned experimental condition, F(2, 83) = 1.8, p=0.7.
However, for participants in the phrases only Group it was
more dicult to follow the instructions, F(2, 83) = 3.75,
p<0.05, partial η2=0.11, M=2.9, SD=0.6 than for partic-
ipants in the mirror only Group (M=2.1, SD=0.8). None
of the participants in the mirror only Group repeated the
phrases previously created during the mirror exposure or
consciously engaged in an active compassionate self-talk.
Discussion
The ability to be reassuring, encouraging and compas-
sionate towards ourselves when things go wrong in life is
related to increased resilience and, in general, better psy-
chological health (Neely, Schallert, Mohammed, Roberts,
Figure 3.Time × Group interaction for HRV (RMSSD; ms2).
Figure 4.Path diagram for the mediation model. Note: **p<0.01;
***p < 0.001. cs = change score (from Time 2 to Time 3). All
coefficients are unstandardized.
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 533
Repeating the phrases at the mirror did not lessen neg-
ative emotions more than the other two conditions. These
ndings conrmed that even if positive and negative aect
are evidently two related constructs, at the same time they
are separate dimensions, and not two opposite points on
the same continuum (Baumeister & Bushman, 2010). Our
results are in line with previous research showing that
compassion-focused interventions do not specically
impact negative aect, or, at least, no more than other
interventions (Klimecki etal., 2013; Odou & Brinker, 2015).
This may be due to the nature of compassion interven-
tions. Dierently from positive reappraisal and cognitive
restructuring, which are mostly aimed to ‘restructure’ and
change the very content of the self-critical process (e.g. ‘I’m
not so bad; I don’t have enough evidence supporting this
negative assumption about myself’), thus improving neg-
ative aect, compassion-focused coping may provide indi-
viduals with an eective way to accept negative emotions,
which might not be directly impacted by the intervention.
The mirror seems to potentiate the compassionate
self-talk manipulation through focusing on kindness and
connectedness in the face of an emotionally painful expe-
rience, thus increasing the positive emotions of the sooth-
ing system and HRV.
Two major limitations must be considered when
interpreting the results of this study. Firstly, we did not
conduct an extensive qualitative content analysis of
the type of phrases that participants produced in the
first part of the experiment. Differences in content and
‘intensity’ of the phrases among the groups may have
been responsible for the pattern of results we observed.
However, an informal content analysis conducted sepa-
rately by the three authors seemed to suggest a general
homogeneity in terms of content and emotional inten-
sity of the phrases among the three groups. Random
examples of phrases have been reported in Appendix 1.
General themes of unconditional acceptance, under-
standing and empathy towards the suffering, willing-
ness to support and help, common humanity, and warm
encouragement seem to indistinctively recur among all
the three groups.
The second limitation is that even if we asked partici-
pants to rate how closely they followed the instructions
and how dicult it was for them to follow the instructions,
we did not directly control for participants’ compliance to
the experimental task (through audio or video recordings).
Limitations notwithstanding, results suggest that the
mirror is an eective tool for improving the eectiveness
of a compassion-focused exercise, considering that it
could be easily implemented in clinical practice. Further
research is needed to determine moderators (e.g., dier-
ent fears of compassion; Gilbert, McEwan, Matos, & Rivis,
2011) and other possible mediators of this eect, such as,
participants’ emotional emphasizing of their own distress,
facilitating the emergence of self-compassion, as also sug-
gested by Vinai etal. (2015). This is indirectly supported
by recent research showing that exposure to our face
facilitates identication of emotional facial expressions
(Li & Tottenham, 2011, 2013), which is strongly related to
empathetic processes (Besel & Yuille, 2010).
Another way to explain the amplifying eect of the mir-
ror manipulation on soothing positive aect and HRV is
linked to the ‘objectifying properties’ of the mirror. When
we look at our own mirror reection, we may experience
ourselves from an external point of view, which may help
us be more objective and less biased by our internal rep-
resentations of ourselves (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004). In fact,
research employing immersive virtual reality has shown
that identication with a virtual body as a way to experi-
ence self-compassion from an embodied rst-person per-
spective increased self-compassion and feelings of being
safe in a group of highly self-critical females (Falconer etal.,
2014).
Interestingly, the addition of the mirror component
did not impact females dierently than males. Research
on self-objectication suggests that exposure to mirrors
can have negative aective and cognitive consequences
for females in particular, including increasing body shame
(Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998).
However, it is possible that asking participants to generate
compassionate phrases in the rst part of the experiment,
thus activating a compassionate mind-set, has dampened
the shame reaction often linked to mirror exposure, espe-
cially for women; though, further research is needed to
explore this issue more fully.
Another possible explanation for the eect of the mir-
ror addition is that when we look at ourselves from an
external point of view, we can appraise our qualities like
we appraise other people’s features, and apply to our-
selves the same standards that we use to evaluate others,
which are usually milder (Leahy, 2003). This might help
us remind that we have boundaries and aws like every
other human being, and that suering, personal failures,
inadequacies are part of the shared human experience.
This insight, which has been dened ‘common human-
ity’ by Ne (2003), is one of the major components of
self-compassion, because it lessens the degree of blame
and harsh judgment we may have placed on ourselves for
our failings, softening feelings of abnormality and isola-
tion. In fact, our data showed that the enhancement in the
soothing aect system produced by repeating the phrases
at the mirror was partially mediated by an increase in com-
mon humanity. However, common humanity did not play
the same mediating role in HRV increases, suggesting that
other possible mediating factors must be hypothesized
and further investigated.
534 N. PETROCCHI ET AL.
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(Germer & Ne, 2013; Ne, 2003).
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Funding
Support for investigators (CO) was received from the Italian
Ministry of Health Young Researcher [grant number GR-2010-
2312442].
ORCID
Nicola Petrocchi http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7210-2319
Cristina Ottavianihttp://orcid.org/0000-0002-5240-4387
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Appendix 1.Random selection of compassionate phrases from the three groups.
Phrases at the mirror group Phrases only group Mirror only group
I’ll always be there for you, whatever you
might need.
What counts for me, it’s not what you do but
what you are
Making mistakes is human; it’s OK even if you fail
It’s not the end of the world! We will find a
way together
I’m sorry that you are sad, but you can count on
me; everything will be all right
Life is sour sometimes, but we are all together in this, you
will never be alone
We can all do mistakes Over the years, I’ve seen all your changes and
I’ve learned how to love each and every part
of you. I love you
Take your time, take a bath, cuddle yourself.
I will be here even when all things will start
falling apart; you are my friend, my sister, I
will never leave you alone.
I know what you are feeling, but you can always
count on me
A day will come when you will think back to this moment
and you will smile at it
I know that you are struggling now, but
please don’t forget that there are people
loving you, and waiting for you to feel
better
After all this, you will be stronger that before I know how difficult this moment is for you: loss, betrayals
etc. But I will be by your side, whatever happens.
I’m sorry that you are feeling sad, I’ll be by
your side
Life is like that: there will always be difficulties
and sad moments. But we can decide to be
strong enough to face them.
I love you for what you are, exactly as you are, not for what
you do.
Don’t let anyone judge you, you are the only
person that can say what’s right or wrong
for you
Don’t take your self-critical voice so seriously;
you are much wiser and bigger than that silly
voice
The parts of yourself that you don’t like, are parts of you that
need your attention and love
You’ve been strong in the past, and you will
be able to find your strength now too.
I’m here and I will be here forever; I’ll always try
to help you in any way possible
Think about all the positive things that you did and do.
Don’t be too hard and critical on yourself,
everyone makes mistakes.
What counts is that you had the strength to
share these difficult feelings with someone
Don’t worry we will fix this together
Don’t worry, the sun will come back, eventu-
ally; and I’ll be here with you till it comes.
What can I do for you? It’s better if we are in
two.
I understand you completely, how can I help you?
When you are sad, you can count on me I’m your friend and I love you; I accept you
exactly as you are
Everyone makes mistakes, but we can always learn from
them. Don’t worry, we will find a solution together.
... Holding a compassionate attitude towards oneself, the antithesis of being self-critical, may be an important process to scrutinize. Research in adults showed that self-compassion is negatively related to the development and maintenance of (symptoms of) psychopathology (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012;Muris & Petrocchi, 2017;Zessin et al., 2015) because it promotes adaptive stress responses and facilitates stress recovery (Arch et al., 2014;Kirschner et al., 2019;Luo et al., 2018;Petrocchi et al., 2017;Rockliff et al., 2008). Although there is convincing evidence that trait and trained self-compassion are also linked to adolescents' mental health (Bluth et al., 2016a;Bluth & Eisenlohr-Moul, 2017;Marsh et al., 2018), experimental research is needed to unravel the effects of self-compassion on adolescents' stress response patterns. ...
... A substantial body of experimental research in adults found evidence for increases in HRV-indicative of an increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous systemwhen self-compassion is induced or trained via a brief intervention (Arch et al., 2014;Kirschner et al., 2019;Luo et al., 2018;Petrocchi et al., 2017;Rockliff et al., 2008). These findings provide some evidence for the beneficial effects of self-compassion on physiological stress responses in adults. ...
... Based on the existing literature, it is hypothesized that adolescents who were trained and stimulated to use self-compassion after stress exposure would show a better stress than a control group. More specially, we expect that, adolescents in the self-compassion group would report higher levels of positive affect and lower levels of negative affect, and show a decreased heart rate and an increased high frequency HRV, as compared to the control group (Goldberger et al., 2001;Neff & Germer, 2013;Petrocchi et al., 2017) during recovery phase. ...
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Objectives Previous studies demonstrated that self-compassion may generate positive effects on adults’ mental health through its impact on stress responses. As adolescence is characterized by elevated levels of stress, self-compassion may be particularly relevant for this age group. The aim of this study was to assess the immediate effects of a brief training in self-compassion on adolescents’ stress recovery following a validated stress induction. Methods Fifty-three adolescents between 11 and 18 years old (64% girls) were randomly assigned to a self-compassion group or a control group prior to undergoing a three-phase experiment (i.e., baseline, stress induction, and instruction phase). Adolescents in the self-compassion group received a brief training in self-compassion before the start of the experiment and were asked to use the learned technique during the instruction phase. Adolescents in the control group did not receive a training and were provided with neutral instructions during the instruction phase. Physiological stress outcomes (i.e., salivary cortisol, heart rate, and heart rate variability) and self-reported stress outcomes (i.e., self-reported affect) were compared between groups. Results The main results revealed no clear differences between both groups pertaining physiological and self-reported stress responses. Conclusions The current findings could not provide evidence for the beneficial effects of a brief self-compassion training among adolescents, and even suggest that it may have detrimental effects on the physiological stress response. Findings are discussed within a developmental framework and important considerations for further research are noted.
... Correspondingly, Luo et al. (2018) found that students with higher levels of dispositional self-compassion had higher levels of vmHRV when performing a stress test (giving a speech) as compared to individuals with lower levels of self-compassion. It has also been shown that training to enhance self-compassion leads to increased levels of vmHRV (Rockliff et al., 2008;Kok et al., 2013;Arch et al., 2014;Matos et al., 2017;Petrocchi et al., 2017;Kirschner et al., 2019;Luo et al., 2020). For example, Kirschner et al. (2019) used an experimental design and found that participants who listened to a sound file aimed at increasing self-compassion had higher vmHRV than control participants. ...
... This is an important factor since recurrent MDD is reflecting a chronic course of depression and thereby typically show a higher vulnerability for lower vmHRV. Moreover, in previous research, the positive effect of self-compassion on vmHRV have predominantly been studied in younger adults (e.g., Arch et al., 2014;Matos et al., 2017;Petrocchi et al., 2017;Luo et al., 2018;Kirschner et al., 2019), as opposed to the relatively older sample in our study (mean age = 40.24 years old). ...
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Background: Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is one of the most disabling mental disorders in modern society. Prior research has shown that self-compassion protects against ruminative tendencies, a key feature of recurrent MDD. In addition, self-compassion has been found to be positively related to higher psychophysiological flexibility (indexed by a higher vagally mediated heart rate variability; vmHRV) in young, healthy adults. To our knowledge, there is a lack of studies on how self-compassion relates to vmHRV in patients with recurrent MDD. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether higher self-compassion would associate with 1) lower ruminative tendencies and 2) higher vmHRV in a sample of adults with recurrent MDD. Methods: We included a sample of patients (46 females) between 20 and 71 years old (M = 40.24, SD = 12.8) with a history of three or more depressive episodes. They filled out the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Rumination Rating Scale (RRS). ECG (used to derive vmHRV) was acquired while resting and the square root of the mean squared differences of successive RR interval values (RMSSD) was calculated as measure of vmHRV. Results: As hypothesized, self-compassion was associated with lower ruminative tendencies. However, self-compassion was not associated with level of vmHRV. Several confounding variables were controlled for in the statistical analyses, and higher age predicted lower vmHRV across all statistical analyses. Conclusion: The results confirmed our hypothesis that higher self-compassion would be associated with lower ruminative tendencies in recurrent MDD. Contrary to our expectation, we did not find that the tendency to be more self-compassionate was associated with higher vmHRV. As such, higher self-compassion seems to relate with a lower tendency to ruminate about past mistakes and events, but does not seem to relate to a flexible autonomic stress response (as indexed by higher vmHRV). Other potential explanatory factors for lower vmHRV in recurrent MDD is suggested as focus for exploration in future studies.
... In addition, recent studies have been showing a connection between HRV and the emotional state of compassion, self-compassion, feelings of perceived safeness and warmth and greater ability to selfsoothe when stressed (e.g. Petrocchi et al., 2016;Porges, 2007;Stellar et al., 2015;Svendsen et al., 2016). ...
... In support of our finding that HRV has a mediating impact on the effects of CFT on relaxed positive affect, a number of studies have recently demonstrated that cultivating compassion through different CMT/ CFT practices is associated with increased parasympathetic response as measured by increases in HRV (e.g. Arch et al., 2014;Kim et al., 2020;Matos et al., 2017a;Petrocchi et al., 2016;Rockliff et al., 2008). Surprisingly though, HRV did not emerge as a significant mediator in relation to the effects of the CMT intervention on the other mental health indicators. ...
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Objectives The current study aimed to examine the mechanisms of change that mediate the impact of a compassionate mind training (CMT) intervention, in particular, whether changes in compassion, fears of compassion and heart rate variability (HRV) would mediate the effects of a brief CMT intervention on psychological vulnerability factors, mental health indicators and positive affect. Methods Using a longitudinal design, general population participants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions: compassionate mind training (n = 56) and wait list control (n = 37). Participants in the CMT condition attended a psychoeducation session and practiced a set of core CMT exercises for 2 weeks. Self-report measures of compassion, fears of compassion, self-criticism, shame, depression, stress and positive affect were completed, and HRV was assessed at pre- and post-intervention. Results Mediation analyses revealed that increases in compassion for self and from others and reductions in fears of compassion for self, for others and from others mediated the effects of CMT on self-criticism and shame. In depression and stress, compassion for the self and from others and fears of compassion for the self emerged as significant mediators. Compassion for the self and from others and fears of compassion for self and from others significantly mediated the effect of CMT in safe affect. Compassion for the self, fears of compassion for self and for others and HRV mediated changes in relaxed affect. Conclusions Cultivating a compassionate mind/self-identity through the core components of CMT may stimulate vagal regulatory activity and positively impact one’s ability to experience and be open to compassion, and thus promote emotion regulation, well-being and mental health.
... vmHRV is also consistent with previous studies linking state and trained self-compassion to increased vmHRV(Arch et al., 2014;Kirschner et al., 2019; Kok et al., 2013;Matos et al., 2017;Petrocchi, Ottaviani, & Couyoumdjian, 2017;Rockliff et al., 2008). Since the publication of paper II, several new studies have been conducted establishing such links. ...
... Luo et al. (2018) demonstrated that self-compassionate individuals showed higher HRV and reported lower negative effects in response to stress, highlighting the role of self-compassion in the adjustment of physiological and psychological responses to stress. Other studies have assessed the effect of self-compassion-based interventions on HRV, indicating that such interventions improve HRV parameters: Petrocchi et al. (2017) tested whether a mirror could enhance the efficacy of self-compassion manipulation on HRV. In that study, eighty-six participants who repeated compassion-focused phrases while looking at the mirror reported higher levels of HRV, according to the method described in Gilbert's study (2010). ...
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Objectives The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of self-compassionate thinking (SCT) related to stressful autobiographical memories (SAM) on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity and heart rate variability (HRV) parameters in healthy subjects. Methods A naturalistic paradigm was built with two conditions, SAM followed by SCT. We used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure oxy and deoxyhemoglobin concentration changes in 33 healthy adults (men = 10) with a mean age of 33.24 years (SD = 6.85). Two HRV parameters were also measured during both conditions: the standard deviations of the normal-to-normal (SDNN-HRV) and the high-frequency component of heart rate variability (HF-HRV). Results During the SAM condition, the left dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) and the frontopolar area showed a significantly increased oxyhemoglobin concentration compared with the control condition (corrected-p < 0.01). During the SCT condition, the frontopolar area showed a significantly increased oxyhemoglobin compared with the control condition (corrected-p < 0.001). A significant increase in time-domain SDNN-HRV (p = 0.002) during SCT compared with the SAM condition was also observed. An association between the frontopolar area fNIRS signal and the HF-HRV during SAM condition was found (corrected-p < 0.05). Conclusions Our findings suggested that the SAM condition is associated with activity in the left DLPFC and in the frontopolar area, while the SCF is associated with activity in the frontopolar area. The SCT was related to an increase in SDNN-HRV when compared with the SAM condition, and an association between HF-HRV and PFC activity was seen. Our results also suggested that self-compassionate thinking can be an effective emotional regulation strategy. Trial Registration Clinical Trials NCT03737084.
... Safe/content positive affect, which encompasses a sense of peaceful well-being, feeling safe, and affection, is experienced by animals with an attachment system in social contexts characterized by non-threatening and care-focused relationships with others and exerts regulating effects on individuals (Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005;Gilbert et al., 2008). However, humans with our evolved human minds, are also capable of creating internal relationships with ourselves (we can feel supportive, indifferent, or hostile to ourselves), and both interpersonal and intrapersonal (i.e., self-hate) maltreatment have found to reduce safe/content positive affect and compromise emotion regulation (Longe et al., 2010;Petrocchi et al., 2017). ...
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Background Increased risky sexual behaviors (RSB) in sexual minority people relative to heterosexual individuals are well documented. However, the role of trans-diagnostic factors that are not sexual orientation-specific, such as self-criticism, in predicting RSB was understudied. The present study aimed to test participants’ gender and sexual orientation as moderators between self-criticism and RSB. Methods Data were collected during 2019. The total sample included 986 sexual minority people ( N women = 51%) and 853 heterosexual people ( N women = 46%), ranging from 18 to 35 years of age. Self-criticism dimensions (self-hate, self-inadequacy, self-reassurance), types of positive affect (relaxed, safe/content, and activated affect), and RSB were assessed. Bivariate, multivariate analyses, and moderated regression analyses were conducted. Results Sexual minority participants showed higher levels of RSB, self-hate, and self-inadequacy than heterosexual people. Only in sexual minority men, RSB correlated positively with self-hate and negatively with safe/content positive affect. Moderated regressions showed that only for sexual minority participants, higher RSB were predicted by higher levels of self-hate. At the same time, this association was not significant for heterosexual people controlling the effects of age, presence of a stable relationship, other self-criticism dimensions, and activation safe/content affect scale. The two-way interaction between sexual orientation and gender was significant, showing that regardless of self-hate, the strength of the association between sexual orientation and RSB is stronger for sexual minority men than sexual minority women and heterosexual participants. Conclusions Findings highlight the distinctive role of self-hate in the occurrence of RSB in sexual minority people and support the usefulness of developing a compassion-focused intervention to target self-hate in sexual minority people.
... Arguably, self-compassion is most relevant in the context of selfcriticism (Neff, 2003). Therefore, to maintain consistency with previous research that has manipulated self-compassion (e.g., Breines & Chen, 2012;Petrocchi et al., 2017), the first three minutes were identical to the self-criticism condition. However, during the second three minutes, participants were asked to describe some ways in which other people also experience similar events. ...
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Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a prevalent and dangerous behavior. Those with a history of NSSI often report high levels of self-critical rumination (SCR), a form of negatively-valenced introspective self-referential processing. It is plausible that this overly analytical style of relating to the self might hinder the ability to process interoceptive signals, thereby increasing the capacity to engage in behaviors that cause bodily harm. Two studies investigated whether trait or state SCR influenced aspects of interoception in those with and without a history of NSSI. In Study 1 (N = 180), irrespective of NSSI history, trait SCR was associated with finding attending to the heartbeat unpleasant. However, no associations were observed for interoceptive confidence, or metacognitive insight into their interoceptive abilities (confidence-accuracy correspondence). Trait SCR was associated with having higher interoceptive accuracy, but only in those without a history of NSSI. In Study 2 (N = 98), irrespective of NSSI history, state self-criticism led to a more negative interoceptive valence, and reduced participant’s metacognitive insight. In those without a history of NSSI, state self-criticism also increased interoceptive accuracy; an effect attenuated in those with NSSI. These findings suggest that those with NSSI are characterised by a blunted interoceptive response to negatively-valenced self-focused attention.
... Recent studies (Svendsen et al., 2016(Svendsen et al., , 2020Luo et al., 2018) and meta-analytic evidence (Di Bello et al., 2020) showed that both state (i.e., induced) and trait (i.e., dispositional) compassion, toward oneself and others, are related to higher vmHRV (Di Bello et al., 2020). Additionally, compassion-focused practices can improve vmHRV (Rockliff et al., 2008;Arch et al., 2014;Matos et al., 2017;Petrocchi et al., 2017). ...
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Recent studies have linked compassion with higher vagally-mediated heart rate variability (vmHRV), a measure of parasympathetic activity, and metanalytic evidence confirmed significant and positive associations. Compassion, however, is not to be confused with soothing positive emotions: in order to engage in actions aimed to alleviate (self or others) suffering, the pain should resonate, and empathic sensitivity should be experienced first. The present study examined the association between vmHRV and the empathic sensitivity and action components of trait and state compassion. To do so, several dispositional questionnaires were administered and two videos inducing empathic sensitivity (video 1) and compassionate actions (video 2) were shown, while the ECG was continuously recorded, and momentary affect was assessed. Results showed i) scores on subscales assessing the empathic component of trait compassion were inversely related to resting vmHRV; ii) vmHRV decreased after video 1 but significantly increased after video 2. As to momentary affect, video 1 was accompanied with an increase in sadness and a decrease of positive affect, whereas video 2 was characterized by an increase in anger, a parallel decrease of sadness, and an increase (although non-significant) in positive affect. Overall, present findings support the notion that it is simplistic to link compassion with higher vmHRV. Compassion encompasses increased sensitivity to emotional pain, which is naturally associated with lower vmHRV, and action to alleviate others’ suffering, which is ultimately associated with increased vmHRV. The importance of adopting a nuanced perspective on the complex physiological regulation that underlies compassionate responding to suffering is discussed.
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Evolutionary perspectives of human behavior propose the existence of three emotion regulation systems (i.e., threat, drive and soothing systems). An unbalanced functioning of the systems represents greater risk for emotion dysregulation and psychopathology. In recent years, heart rate variability (HRV) has been reported as an accurate index of emotion regulation, and although adolescence is characterized by multiple neurophysiological, psychological and social changes, there is no study exploring the HRV patterns of each emotion regulation system in this developmental stage. In Study 1, a standardized procedure (SP) aiming to elicit the three different systems was developed and validated by experts (n = 14) and community adolescents (n = 31). In study 2, differences in HRV patterns across the three emotion regulation systems and across sex, were investigated in a sample of community adolescents (n = 155; 70 males), aged between 14 and 18 years old. Results showed that the threat and drive systems were associated with decreases in HRV, while the soothing system was associated with decreased heart rate. Sex differences were found for the activation of the threat system: while males maintained a decreasing trend in HRV indexes, from resting to recovery, females did not show a decrease in HRV during the activation of this system. Overall, physiological correlates of each specific emotion regulation system corroborate the theoretical assumptions. Moreover, a SP able to trigger each system independently while measuring physiological data is now available and can be used in future research.
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Most forms of psychological distress encompass both the relation to the self in the form of shame and self-criticism, as well as the relation to others in the form of distance and isolation. These are often longstanding and pervasive problems that permeate a wide range of psychological disorders and are difficult to treat. This paper focuses on how problems with shame and self-criticism can be addressed using compassion focused therapy (CFT). In a pilot study we tested the effectiveness of CFT with a single case experimental design in six individuals suffering from social anxiety. The aim was to establish whether CFT lead to increases in self-compassion, and reductions in shame, self-criticism and social anxiety. Moreover, the aim was to investigate to what extent participants were satisfied and experienced CFT as helpful in coping with social anxiety and in increasing self-compassion. Taken together the preliminary results show that CFT is a promising approach. CFT was effective for 3 of 6 participants, probably effective for 1 of 6 and more questionably effective for 2 of 6 participants. These results add to the empirical evidence that CFT is a promising approach to address problems with self-compassion. This research body is as of yet small, and more studies are needed.
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Self-compassion - having a healthy, mindful and kind self-attitude - may be a better way to cope with negative experiences than distraction. This was tested in 152 undergraduates who underwent a negative mood induction and then completed either a self-compassionate writing task or a distraction task. Results showed that participants who wrote self-compassionately experienced increases in positive affect while participants who distracted experienced reductions in positive affect. Both groups significantly reduced in negative affect; however, there was no significant difference between them. An interaction was found between rumination and time, demonstrating that high ruminators experienced greater reduction of sadness than low ruminators. The current findings demonstrate greater short-term benefits of approaching a negative mood using self-compassion compared to distraction and results are discussed in the context of the broaden and build theory of positive emotions.