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Improving Well-Being in Higher Education: Adopting a Compassionate Approach

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This chapter directs attention to calls to integrate compassion training in curricula throughout the education system. Following a review of current Higher Education (HE) aims and objectives, and the potential psychological impacts that these can have on staff and students, we outline a case for compassion based initiatives in education. We discuss the nature and functions of compassion, as well as how compassion can heighten prosocial competencies. We then consider how compassion based approaches can be - and have been - implemented in education settings, including HE, to promote the health and well-being of staff and students, as well as academic performance. We argue that elements of compassion should underpin the training of lecturers (and teachers), as well as students, if UK institutes of learning truly embrace the various core values they advertise.

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... There is considerable evidence that being motivated to be caring and compassionate to self and others has a range of psychophysiological effects that support physical and mental health, and pro social behaviour (Booker et al., 2019;Di Bello et al., 2020;Kim et al., 2020;Seppala et al., 2017). Although compassion awareness and compassion training are not currently part of educational curricula, given their impact on general wellbeing, there are increasing calls for compassionate approaches to be embraced within the education sector (Coles & Gent, 2021;Kohler-Evans & Barnes, 2015;Maratos et al., 2019a;Peterson, 2017). Indeed, schools are becoming ever-more stressful environments for teachers. ...
Chapter
There is growing evidence that the cultivation of compassion focused motives and emotions has profound effects on mental health and wellbeing. This chapter outlines the importance of embedding compassion in school and educational settings for pupils/students, those who teach them, and for the contextual organisation of education. Compassion based initiatives (CBIs) guide staff and pupils to understand the nature of their own minds, and that of others. This is in particular respect to managing emotions and the adverse effects of the competitive nature of education, which can lead to mental health issues in pupils and teachers. This chapter explores theory and research as to the nature of compassion as both a personal and social process and reviews the utility of specifically developed compassionate initiatives for teachers, HE students and school-aged pupils. The chapter culminates in offering practical advice and guidance for cultivating a compassionate school ethos and includes the recommendation of specific exercises and practices taken from CBI curricula.
... There is considerable evidence that being motivated to be caring and compassionate to self and others has a range of psychophysiological effects that support physical and mental health, and pro social behaviour (Booker et al., 2019;Di Bello et al., 2020;Kim et al., 2020;Seppala et al., 2017). Although compassion awareness and compassion training are not currently part of educational curricula, given their impact on general wellbeing, there are increasing calls for compassionate approaches to be embraced within the education sector (Coles & Gent, 2021;Kohler-Evans & Barnes, 2015;Maratos et al., 2019a;Peterson, 2017). Indeed, schools are becoming ever-more stressful environments for teachers. ...
Chapter
There is growing evidence that the cultivation of compassion focused motives and emotions has profound effects on mental health and well-being. This chapter outlines the importance of embedding compassion in school and educational settings for pupils/students, those who teach them, and for the contextual organisation of education. Compassion-based initiatives (CBIs) guide staff and pupils to understand the nature of their own minds, and that of others. This is in particular respect to managing emotions and the adverse effects of the competitive nature of education, which can lead to mental health issues in pupils and teachers. This chapter explores theory and research as to the nature of compassion as both a personal and social process and reviews the utility of specifically developed compassionate initiatives for teachers, Higher Education students and school-aged pupils. The chapter culminates in offering practical advice and guidance for cultivating a compassionate school ethos and includes the recommendation of specific exercises and practices taken from CBI curricula.
... We also utilize subtle visual cues from the eye region to regulate conversations, including turn-taking. Looking in the eyes of one's interlocutor is often considered a sign of being honest, attentive, and compassionate, at least among lay people in western society (Maratos et al., 2019). Several patient groups within psychiatry and neurology who show alterations in engaging in eye contact with others, which may contribute to the social and communicative difficulties they experience. ...
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Many individuals with autism report that eye contact makes them stressed or uncomfortable. Besides expressing their right to respect for neurodiverse ways of nonverbal communication, some autistic individuals also express the wish to improve their capacity to tolerate eye contact. In the current study, five autistic adults completed a 21- to 28-day computerized program that combines psychoeducation with graduated exposure to eye contact through photos. Interview data, questionnaires, gaze patterns, and psychophysiological measures indexing stress and arousal (pupillary and galvanic skin response levels) were collected to monitor and evaluate outcomes. At intake, discomfort resulting from eye contact in everyday life was described as overwhelming and multifaceted. Post-training data showed that observed increases in eye contact were not happening at the expense of heightened arousal. These results provide information about the (complex) nature of eye gaze discomfort in autism while pointing toward promising techniques to increase discomfort tolerance.
... While a large body of the literature documented the relevance of the impact of PA of employees of various professional groups on improving their well-being, there is a dearth of empirical evidence of the impact of LTA focused on academic staff. The impact of physical activity on improving the quality of life of elementary school teachers (Özdöl et al. 2014), or selected relaxation or mindfulness interventions on improving the well-being of in-service teachers (Hwang et al. 2017) or evaluation of special health-based initiatives promoting the improvement of teacher well-being, was proved (Jennings et al. 2019;Maratos et al. 2019). However, previous studies did not consider the impact of LTA of academic teachers on the relationship between the negative consequences of overload academic teachers and burnout in the context of the requirements model-resources. ...
Chapter
Empirical papers on association between physical activity (PA) and professional burnout (PB) and work-related hazards (WRH) in a population of different working adults are still limited. The aim of this chapter is to characterize the level of habitual physical activity of academics working at higher education institutions of Poland, with particular reference to leisure-time physical activity (LPA). Moreover, the chapter also tries to answer a question whether LPA is an important moderating variable of the relationship between work-related hazards and professional burnout. A quantitative research was carried out from September till December 2017 [N ¼ 340]. The online questionnaire consisted of three research tools: the Psychosocial Risk Scale (SRP), the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI), and the International Physical Activity Questionnaires (IPAQ), the long form with demographic characteristics. In the chapter, different statistic tests (the independent-samples t-test, one way-ANOVA, the Mann–Whitney U-test, and Kruskal–Wallis test) and descriptive statistics were included. More than 60% of respondents were classified to the high level of PA according to IPAQ. LPA was declared by 41.8% of academics (vigorous—35.5%, moderate—29.7%, walking—64.5%). To analyze the significance of leisure-time physical activity as a variable moderating the hazards/professional burnout relationship, regression analysis with interaction was conducted. Only in the case of one model referring to the perceived job context-related hazards/ exhaustion relationship, statistically significant moderating effect of LTA was found.
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Purpose The paper draws upon autoethnographic accounts from two academic staff in a private higher education institution (HEI) in London, UK who try to make sense of their teaching and learning practices during the pandemic. Even though studies have looked into the impact of Covid-19 on teaching and learning and on students, this paper reflects on the experience of lecturers with a focus on their emotional labour and stressors during remote teaching and working. Design/methodology/approach This is a small case study of two colleagues from a small private institution in London, UK, which is based on autoethnography. The authors draw on personal notes, emails and other written artefacts alongside our memories of our lived experiences of the pandemic. Findings The authors’ reflections focus on the need for institutional collegiality as avenues to network and collaborate beyond institutions which have been limited (despite the increased interactions online) and the need to acknowledge emotional labour while providing spaces for staff to discuss their everyday experiences. The authors argue for a renewed importance for creating a sense of community during times of uncertainty and beyond. If these structures are put into place, the conditions to support teaching and learning will also strengthened. Originality/value There is a dearth in research which discusses emotional labour and the importance of community and collegiality on campuses and in the new way of working remotely. This paper adds to the empirical basis of such research and hopes to encourage others to share their experiences of emotional labour in the academy.
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Objectives Schools are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis, with teachers reporting high levels of stress and burnout, which has adverse consequences to their mental and physical health. Addressing mental and physical health problems and promoting wellbeing in educational settings is thus a global priority. This study investigated the feasibility and effectiveness of an 8-week Compassionate Mind Training program for Teachers (CMT-T) on indicators of psychological and physiological wellbeing. Methods A pragmatic randomized controlled study with a stepped-wedge design was conducted in a sample of 155 public school teachers, who were randomized to CMT-T ( n = 80) or a waitlist control group (WLC; n = 75). Participants completed self-report measures of psychological distress, burnout, overall and professional wellbeing, compassion and self-criticism at baseline, post-intervention, and 3-months follow-up. In a sub-sample (CMT-T, n = 51; WLC n = 36) resting heart-rate variability (HRV) was measured at baseline and post-intervention. Results CMT-T was feasible and effective. Compared to the WLC, the CMT-T group showed improvements in self-compassion, compassion to others, positive affect, and HRV as well as reductions in fears of compassion, anxiety and depression. WLC participants who received CMT-T revealed additional improvements in compassion for others and from others, and satisfaction with professional life, along with decreases in burnout and stress. Teachers scoring higher in self-criticism at baseline revealed greater improvements post CMT-T. At 3-month follow-up improvements were retained. Conclusions CMT-T shows promise as a compassion-focused intervention for enhancing compassion, wellbeing and reducing psychophysiological distress in teachers, contributing to nurturing compassionate, prosocial and resilient educational environments. Given its favourable and sustainable effects on wellbeing and psychophysiological distress, and low cost to deliver, broader implementation and dissemination of CMT-T is encouraged.
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Test anxiety can have a deleterious impact on academic achievement and adversely effect adolescent wellbeing both concurrently and in later life. The current study explored the use of Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) as a school-based intervention for test anxiety among adolescents. Participants were 47 adolescents, aged 16 to 17 years old, attending a post-primary school in the UK and enrolled to take qualifications beyond compulsory education. Participants were quasi-randomly allocated on the basis of timetable availability into an intervention group that received eight sessions of CMT (n = 22) or a control group (n = 25). Participants in both groups completed pre- and post-intervention measures of test anxiety, general anxiety, and self-compassion. Attendance and retention rates were used as an index of intervention feasibility. The findings indicated that CMT was a feasible and effective intervention. Adolescents receiving CMT showed significant reductions in test anxiety and general anxiety, as well as a significant improvement in self-compassion following the intervention compared to the control group. The findings highlight the potential value of CMT in supporting young people suffering from test anxiety in schools. The implications for counselling practice are discussed.
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Recent research has demonstrated the importance of positive emotions, and especially compassion, for well-being. Via two investigations, we set out to determine if facial expressions of happiness, “kind” compassion and sympathetic concern can be distinguished, given limitations of previous research. In investigation one, prototypes of the three expressions were analysed for similarities and differences using the facial action coding system (FACS) by two certified independent coders. Results established that each expression comprised distinct FACS units. Thus, in investigation 2, a new photographic stimulus set was developed using a gender/racially balanced group of actors to pose these expressions of “kind” compassion, happiness, sympathetic concern, and the face in a relaxed/neutral pose. 75 participants were then asked to name the FACS generated expressions using not only forced categorical quantitative ratings but, importantly, free response. Results revealed that kind compassionate facial expressions: (i) engendered words associated with contented and affiliative emotions (although, interestingly, not the word “kind”); (ii) were labelled as compassionate significantly more often than any of the other emotional expressions; but (iii) in common with happiness expressions, engendered happiness word groupings and ratings. Findings have implications for understandings of positive emotions, including specificity of expressions and their veridicality.
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Compassion meditation training is hypothesized to increase the motivational salience of cues of suffering, while also enhancing equanimous attention and decreasing emotional reactivity to suffering. However, it is currently unknown how compassion meditation impacts visual attention to suffering, and how this impacts neural activation in regions associated with motivational salience as well as aversive responses, such as the amygdala. Healthy adults were randomized to 2 weeks of compassion or reappraisal training. We measured BOLD fMRI responses before and after training while participants actively engaged in their assigned training to images depicting human suffering or non-suffering. Eye-tracking data were recorded concurrently, and we computed looking time for socially and emotionally evocative areas of the images, and calculated visual preference for suffering vs. non-suffering. Increases in visual preference for suffering due to compassion training were associated with decreases in the amygdala, a brain region involved in negative valence, arousal, and physiological responses typical of fear and anxiety states. This pattern was specifically in the compassion group, and was not found in the reappraisal group. In addition, compassion training-related increases in visual preference for suffering were also associated with decreases in regions sensitive to valence and empathic distress, spanning the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex (while the reappraisal group showed the opposite effect). Examining visual attention alone demonstrated that engaging in compassion in general (across both time points) resulted in visual attention preference for suffering compared to engaging in reappraisal. Collectively, these findings suggest that compassion meditation may cultivate visual preference for suffering while attenuating neural responses in regions typically associated with aversive processing of negative stimuli, which may cultivate a more equanimous and nonreactive form of attention to stimuli of suffering.
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The purpose of this paper is to explore the neuroscience that underpins the psychology of compassion as a competency. We explain why this cognitive competency is now taught and assessed on modules of different degree subjects in a UK university. The paper is divided into first, an exploration of recent psychology and neuroscience literature that illuminates the differences, and relationship, between empathy and compassion for safeness building in teams. Within that, the role of oxytocin in achieving social and intellectual rewards though the exercise of cognitive flexibility, working memory and impulsive inhibitory control (Zelazo, et al, 2016) is also identified. The literature findings are compared against relevant qualitative data from the above university’s, so far, nine years of mixed methods action research on compassion-focused pedagogy (CfP). Findings are that the concept and practice of embedding compassion as a cognitive competency into assessed university group work is illuminated and rationalised by research findings in neuroscience. The limitations of the study are that, so far, fMRI research methods have not been used to investigate student subjects involved in the compassion-focused pedagogy now in use. The paper has implications for theory, policy and practice in relation to managing the increasing amount of group work that accompanies widening participation in Higher Education. A review of this kind specifically for student assessed group and its implications for student academic achievement and mental health has not, apparently, been published.
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This paper explores indicators of practice quality of a brief compassion mind training (CMT) intervention and their impact on the development of an inner sense of one’s compassionate self (CS) and a range of self-report measures. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: compassionate mind training (CMT; n = 77) and wait-list control. Participants in the CMT condition practiced a range of CMT practices during 2 weeks. Each week, participants completed a feedback questionnaire, measuring practice frequency, helpfulness and embodiment of the practices in everyday life. Self-report measures of compassion, positive affect, shame, self-criticism, fears of compassion and psychopathological symptoms were also completed at pre and post. Practice frequency was associated with the frequency and easiness of embodiment of the CS. Perceived helpfulness of the practices was related to greater embodiment of the CS and to increases in compassion, reassured self, relaxed and safe affect and decreases in self-criticism. The embodiment variables of the CS were associated with higher compassion for the self, for others and from others and with improvements in reassured self, safe affect and compassionate goals. Embodiment of the CS and perceived helpfulness of the practices predicted compassion for the self and experience of compassion from others at post-intervention. Perceiving compassion cultivation practices as helpful and being able to embody the CS in everyday life is key to foster self-compassion and the experience of receiving compassion from others, as well as to promote feelings of safeness, contentment and calmness.
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Key theories of the human need for nature take an evolutionary perspective, and many of the mental well-being benefits of nature relate to positive affect. As affect has a physiological basis, it is important to consider these benefits alongside regulatory processes. However, research into nature and positive affect tends not to consider affect regulation and the neurophysiology of emotion. This brief systematic review and meta-analysis presents evidence to support the use of an existing evolutionary functional model of affect regulation (the three circle model of emotion) that provides a tripartite framework in which to consider the mental well-being benefits of nature and to guide nature-based well-being interventions. The model outlines drive, contentment and threat dimensions of affect regulation based on a review of the emotion regulation literature. The model has been used previously for understanding mental well-being, delivering successful mental health-care interventions and providing directions for future research. Finally, the three circle model is easily understood in the context of our everyday lives, providing an accessible physiological-based narrative to help explain the benefits of nature.
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This article reports the effects (on students’ social and learning experiences) of supporting students in the use of explicitly compassionate interactional strategies during their weekly seminar interactions. Also reported is the impact of this practice on individual performances in critical thinking in seminars. Methods: Findings of a cross disciplinary search on compassion were used to design a compassion focussed pedagogy (a CfP) for the university seminar. This pedagogy was then trialled, through action research, in two departments in a UK HEI. N=97 Humanities under and post graduate students and n=60 Business undergraduates participated in subject seminars that were run using the CfP. Template analysis was used to identify themes in the qualitative data sets: field notes of observed behaviours in seminars run with and without the CfP, films of assessed CfP seminars (n=48 students), and interviews and focus groups (n=33 students). In a final participating business module of ethnically diverse students, statistical analysis explored the effects of the CfP on individual critical thinking performances (n=38). Findings: Overall, students were attitudinally inclined to increase efforts over time to enhance their own and others’ social and learning experiences in seminars through compassionate behavioural interventions during discussions; they achieved, or failed to achieve this, in observable ways that were seen and agreed to be appropriate to assess as credit bearing towards their under and post graduate degrees by five out of five external examiners. Students found eye contact – inclusive, excluding or avoidant – was critical to mediating the spread of participation in their seminars. Findings also suggested, tentatively, the potential of the CfP to substantially change the national attainment gap in terms of critical thinking in seminars. http://www.herts.ac.uk/link/volume-2,-issue-1/assess-compassion-in-higher-education-how-and-why-would-we-do-that
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This study examined the moderator effect of social support on the relationship between stress and depression of university students. A total of 632 undergraduate students completed the measures of perceived stress, perceived social support, and depression. Hierarchical regression analysis showed that social support moderated the association between stress and depression. Undergraduate students with high stress reported higher scores in depression than those with low stress with low social support level. However, the impact of stress on depression was much smaller in the high social support group compared with that in the low social support group.
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Objectives: Imagery is known to be a powerful means of stimulating various physiological processes and is increasingly used within standard psychological therapies. Compassion-focused imagery (CFI) has been used to stimulate affiliative emotion in people with mental health problems. However, evidence suggests that self-critical individuals may have particular difficulties in this domain with single trials. The aim of the present study was to further investigate the role of self-criticism in responsiveness to CFI by specifically pre-selecting participants based on trait self-criticism. Design: Using the Forms of Self-Criticism/Self-Reassuring Scale, 29 individuals from a total sample of 139 were pre-selected to determine how self-criticism impacts upon an initial instance of imagery. Methods: All participants took part in three activities: a control imagery intervention (useable data N = 25), a standard CFI intervention (useable data N = 25), and a non-intervention control (useable data N = 24). Physiological measurements (alpha amylase) as well as questionnaire measures of emotional responding (i.e., the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, the Types of Positive Affect Scale, and the State Adult Attachment Scale) were taken before and after the different interventions. Results: Following both imagery interventions, repeated measures analyses revealed that alpha amylase increased significantly for high self-critics compared with low self-critics. High self-critics (HSC) also reported greater insecurity on entering the imagery session and more negative CFI experiences compared with low self-critics. Conclusions: Data demonstrate that HSC respond negatively to imagery interventions in a single trial. This highlights that imagery focused therapies (e.g., CFI) need interventions that manage fears, blocks, and resistances to the techniques, particularly in HSC. Practitioner points: An initial instance of imagery (e.g., CFI) can be frightening for people who have a tendency to be self-critical. This research provides examples of physiological and emotional responses to imagery type therapies in high and low self-critics, and associated clinical implications. Therapists may find it helpful to be mindful that when introducing imagery based therapies, highly self-critical patients need interventions that manage fears, blocks, and resistances to the techniques.
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Shame and self-criticism are transdiagnostic problems. People who experience them may struggle to feel relieved, reassured or safe. Research suggests that a specialised affect regulation sys tem (or systems) underpins feelings of reassurance, safeness and well-being. It is believed to have evolved with attachment systems and, in particular, the ability to register and respond with calming and a sense of well-being to being cared for. In compassion-focused therapy it is hypothesised that this affect regulation system is poorly accessible in people with high shame and self-criticism, in whom the 'threat' affect regulation system dominates orientation to their inner and outer worlds. Compassion-focused therapy is an integrated and multimodal approach that draws from evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychology, and neuro science. One of its key concerns is to use compassionate mind training to help people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing, via compassion and self-compassion.
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Compassion is a key motivator of altruistic behavior, but little is known about individuals' capacity to cultivate compassion through training. We examined whether compassion may be systematically trained by testing whether (a) short-term compassion training increases altruistic behavior and (b) individual differences in altruism are associated with training-induced changes in neural responses to suffering. In healthy adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context. Furthermore, increased altruistic behavior after compassion training was associated with altered activation in brain regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation, including the inferior parietal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and in DLPFC connectivity with the nucleus accumbens. These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training and that greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.
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This study measured heart-rate variability and cortisol to explore whether Compassion-Focused Imagery (CFI) could stimulate a soothing affect system. We also explored individual differences (self-reported self-criticism, attachment style and psychopathology) to CFI. Participants were given a relaxation, compassion-focused and control imagery task. While some individuals showed an increase in heart rate variability during CFI, others had a decrease. There was some indication that this was related to peoples self-reports of self-criticism, and attachment style. Those with an increase in heart rate variability also showed a significant cortisol decrease. Hence, CFI can stimulate a soothing affect system and attenuate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity in some individuals but those who are more self-critical, with an insecure attachment style may require therapeutic interventions to benefit from CFI.
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Two longitudinal studies examined the associations between interpersonal goals (i.e., self-image and compassionate goals) and anxiety and dysphoria (i.e., distress). In Study 1, 199 college freshmen (122 women, 77 men) completed 12 surveys over 12 weeks. Compassionate goals predicted decreased distress, and self-image goals predicted increased distress from pretest to posttest when distress was assessed as anxiety, dysphoria, or a composite, and when the goals were worded as approach goals, avoidance goals, or a composite. In Study 2, 115 first-semester roommate pairs (86 female and 29 male pairs) completed 12 surveys over 12 weeks. Compassionate and self-image goals predicted distress in same-week, lagged-week, and pretest-to-posttest analyses; effects of compassionate goals remained significant when the authors controlled for several known risk factors. Having clear goals consistently explained the association between compassionate goals but not self-image goals and distress. Results supported a path model in which compassionate goals predict increased support given to roommates, which predicts decreased distress. Results also supported a reciprocal association; chronic distress predicted decreased compassionate and increased self-image goals from pretest to posttest, and weekly distress predicted decreased compassionate goals the subsequent week. The results suggest that compassionate goals contribute to decreased distress because they provide meaning and increase support given to others. Distress, in turn, predicts change in goals, creating the potential for upward and downward spirals of goals and distress.
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This paper presents a new model of gratitude incorporating not only the gratitude that arises following help from others but also a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life", incorporating not only the gratitude that arises following help from others, but also a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life. Research into individual differences in gratitude and well-being is reviewed, including gratitude and psychopathology, personality, relationships, health, subjective and eudemonic well-being, and humanistically orientated functioning. Gratitude is strongly related to well-being, however defined, and this link may be unique and causal. Interventions to clinically increase gratitude are critically reviewed, and concluded to be promising, although the positive psychology literature may have neglected current limitations, and a distinct research strategy is suggested. Finally, mechanisms whereby gratitude may relate to well-being are discussed, including schematic biases, coping, positive affect, and broaden-and-build principles. Gratitude is relevant to clinical psychology due to (a) strong explanatory power in understanding well-being, and (b) the potential of improving well-being through fostering gratitude with simple exercises.
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In 2 studies, the authors examined whether relationship goals predict change in social support and trust over time. In Study 1, a group of 199 college freshmen completed pretest and posttest measures of social support and interpersonal trust and completed 10 weekly reports of friendship goals and relationship experiences. Average compassionate goals predicted closeness, clear and connected feelings, and increased social support and trust over the semester; self-image goals attenuated these effects. Average self-image goals predicted conflict, loneliness, and afraid and confused feelings; compassionate goals attenuated these effects. Changes in weekly goals predicted changes in goal-related affect, closeness, loneliness, conflict, and beliefs about mutual and individualistic caring. In Study 2, a group of 65 roommate pairs completed 21 daily reports of their goals for their roommate relationship. Actors' average compassionate and self-image goals interacted to predict changes over 3 weeks in partners' reports of social support received from and given to actors; support that partners gave to actors, in turn, predicted changes in actors' perceived available support, indicating that people with compassionate goals create a supportive environment for themselves and others, but only if they do not have self-image goals.
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The aim of the study was to assess the relationship between dimensions of perfectionism and suicide ideation in a tertiary student population in Australia. The methodology involved 405 students completing the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) which includes a subset of questions which can be used to assess suicide ideation, and the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. The presence of suicide ideation was associated with higher scores on total perfectionism and two perfectionism dimensions, and total GHQ scores. There were significant differences between participants with high levels of perfectionism and participants with moderate to low levels of perfectionism on a measure of suicide ideation. Neither gender nor age were associated with differences in the scores, with results indicating high levels of perfectionism may indicate a vulnerability to suicide ideation. Perfectionism is a valued attribute in high-achieving populations. The question needs to be asked, however, at what cost? The findings indicate that high levels of perfectionism may be associated with an increased vulnerability to suicide ideation. Future research is needed to gain a better understanding of the complex interrelationship between personality and temperament, environmental factors and self-destructive behaviour.
Article
Our current social and political context is awash with pronouncements about the growing number of children and young people with mental health issues. This paper explores how school culture that is founded upon a compassion framework is well placed to support the promotion of pupils’ mental health and well-being. Drawing upon experiences of being a senior leader in a specialist social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) educational setting and of supporting a wide range of mainstream schools in the area of SEMH and well-being, this paper outlines some of the conflicting interests and ubiquitous tensions that present challenges in the contemporary UK education system. Conceptualisations of compassion and other relevant theoretical perspectives are referred to in order to illustrate how the, often, at times, competing needs of different constituencies (pupils, teaching and non-teaching staff, management, parents and carers) within school communities are best served when disentangled from each other and addressed with attention and clarity.
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the neuroscience that underpins the psychology of compassion as a competency. The authors explain why this cognitive competency is now taught and assessed on modules of different degree subjects in a UK university. Design/methodology/approach The paper is divided into first, an exploration of recent psychology and neuroscience literature that illuminates the differences, and relationship, between empathy and compassion for safeness building in teams. Within that, the role of oxytocin in achieving social and intellectual rewards though the exercise of cognitive flexibility, working memory and impulsive inhibitory control (Zelazo et al., 2016) is also identified. The literature findings are compared against relevant qualitative data from the above university, so far, nine years of mixed methods action research on compassion-focussed pedagogy (CfP). Findings These are the concept and practice of embedding compassion as an assessed cognitive competency in university group work is illuminated and rationalised by research findings in neuroscience. Research limitations/implications The limitations of the study are that, so far, fMRI research methods have not been used to investigate student subjects involved in the CfP now in use. Practical implications The paper has implications for theory, policy and practice in relation to managing the increasing amount of group work that accompanies widening participation in higher education (HE). Social implications The social implications of what is outlined in the paper pertain to student mental health, and academic achievement; to policy and practice for HE curriculum design across subjects and disciplines; and for the HE remit to serve the public good. Originality/value A review of this kind specifically for student assessed group and its implications for student academic achievement and mental health has not, apparently, been published.
Chapter
Today there is a robust, theoretical basis, contributed by a range of disciplines, for rooting compassion into university curricula—an essential dimension to HE’s remit to serve the public good. Central to this is how compassion has come to be introduced to be credit bearing towards degrees, for example, in terms of assessment practice for group work, seminars and tutorials, in parts of the University of Hertfordshire (UH). This chapter focuses on one of the essential micro-skills of compassion that is easily taught in HE: the use of eye gaze for deliberatively compassionate purposes in group work. The UH has found this skill, among others, to be a key mediator of students’ noticing and addressing distress and/or disadvantaging of others in group work. The chapter explains how assessing such demonstrable, compassionate behaviours has mediated participant groups’ levels of inclusivity and critical thinking performance in three UH departments.
Book
Human Nature and Suffering is a profound comment on the human condition, from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Paul Gilbert explores the implications of humans as evolved social animals, suggesting that evolution has given rise to a varied set of social competencies, which form the basis of our personal knowledge and understanding. Gilbert shows how our primitive competencies become modified by experience - both satisfactorily and unsatisfactorily. He highlights how cultural factors may modify and activate many of these primitive competencies, leading to pathology proneness and behaviours that are collectively survival threatening. These varied themes are brought together to indicate how the social construction of self arises from the organization of knowledge encoded within the competencies. This Classic Edition features a new introduction from the author, bringing Gilbert’s early work to a new audience. The book will be of interest to clinicians, researchers and historians in the field of psychology.
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This cross-sectional research examines how social comparison, competition and teacher–student relationships as classroom characteristics are associated with bullying and victimization among junior high school students in grades 7 and 8 in Canada. The study tests a conceptual model of youth outcomes that highlights the importance of modeling the effects of teaching practices as proximal structural conditions at the classroom level (N = 38) that affect bullying outcomes at the individual level (N = 687). Results of Hierarchal linear modeling (HLM) revealed significant classroom-level effects in that increased social comparison, competition and teacher–student relationships were related to bullying and victimization. An interaction for teacher–student relationships and gender also emerged. These findings may guide future intervention programs for junior high schools that focus on enhancing cooperation and pro-social behavior in classrooms. The findings could also inform programs that focus on building strong relationships between students and teachers to help prevent bullying and victimization, particularly among boys.
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Purpose. Over the last 10–15 years, there has been a substantive increase in compassion-based interventions aiming to improve psychological functioning and well- being. Methods. This study provides an overview and synthesis of the currently available compassion-based interventions. What do these programmes looks like, what are their aims, and what is the state of evidence underpinning each of them? Results. This overview has found at least eight different compassion-based interven- tions (e.g., Compassion-Focused Therapy, Mindful Self-Compassion, Cultivating Com- passion Training, Cognitively Based Compassion Training), with six having been evaluated in randomized controlled trials, and with a recent meta-analysis finding that compassion- based interventions produce moderate effect sizes for suffering and improved life satisfaction. Conclusions. Although further research is warranted, the current state of evidence highlights the potential benefits of compassion-based interventions on a range of outcomes that clinicians can use in clinical practice with clients.
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The adverse effects of early-life stress are pervasive, with well-established mental and physical health consequences for exposed individuals. The impact of early adverse experiences is also highly persistent, with documented increases in risk for mental illness across the lifespan that are accompanied by stable alterations in neural function and hormonal responses to stress. Here, we review some of these "stress phenotypes", with a focus on long-term mental health outcomes and potential intermediary factors such as altered development of the fear regulation system. Intriguingly, recent research suggests that such stress phenotypes may persist even beyond the lifespan of the individual, with consequences for their offspring and grand-offspring. Phenotypic characteristics may be transmitted to future generations via either the matriline or the patriline, a phenomenon that has been demonstrated in both human and animal studies. In this review, we highlight behavioral and epigenetic factors that may contribute to this multigenerational transmission and discuss the potential of various treatment approaches that may halt the cycle of stress phenotypes.
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The aim of this qualitative study was to investigate the subjective experiences of 29 university students who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for academic evaluation anxiety. Participants who self-referred to the Student Counseling Service underwent individual semi-structured interviews about how they experienced the personal relevance and practical usefulness of taking the MBSR program. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed through a team-based explorative-reflective thematic approach based on a hermeneutic-phenomenological epistemology. Five salient patterns of meaning (themes) were found: (1) finding an inner source of calm, (2) sharing a human struggle, (3) staying focused in learning situations, (4) moving from fear to curiosity in academic learning, and (5) feeling more self-acceptance when facing difficult situations. We contextualize these findings in relation to existing research, discuss our own process of reflexivity, highlight important limitations of this study, and suggest possible implications for future research.
Chapter
Interpersonal goals are a key mechanism through which people and their social environments influence each other. Two goals-self-image and compassionate goals-the motivational systems that energize these goals, their measurement, and how they relate to other constructs in the literature are described. Results of three longitudinal studies of first-year college students suggest that when people have self-image goals-that is, when they try to manage the impressions others have of them-they create a cascade of unintended negative consequences for both themselves and others. In contrast, when people try to contribute to the well-being of other people, they create a cascade of positive consequences for both themselves and others. Over time, for better or worse, by changing what they experience, people actually change themselves-the beliefs they hold and their goals, self-esteem, and even dispositional tendencies. We describe a variety of processes through which people's interpersonal goals shape their own and others' experience and raise several remaining issues for this program of research.
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Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is rooted in an evolutionary, functional analysis of basic social motivational systems (e.g., to live in groups, form hierarchies and ranks, seek out sexual, partners help and share with alliances, and care for kin) and different functional emotional systems (e.g., to respond to threats, seek out resources, and for states of contentment/safeness). In addition, about 2 million years ago, (pre-)humans began to evolve a range of cognitive competencies for reasoning, reflection, anticipating, imagining, mentalizing, and creating a socially contextualized sense of self. These new competencies can cause major difficulties in the organization of (older) motivation and emotional systems. CFT suggests that our evolved brain is therefore potentially problematic because of its basic ‘design,’ being easily triggered into destructive behaviours and mental health problems (called ‘tricky brain’). However, mammals and especially humans have also evolved motives and emotions for affiliative, caring and altruistic behaviour that can organize our brain in such a way as to significantly offset our destructive potentials. CFT therefore highlights the importance of developing people's capacity to (mindfully) access, tolerate, and direct affiliative motives and emotions, for themselves and others, and cultivate inner compassion as a way for organizing our human ‘tricky brain’ in prosocial and mentally healthy ways.
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A growing body of research has revealed that social evaluative stressors trigger biological and psychological responses that in chronic forms have been linked to aging and disease. Recent research suggests that self-compassion may protect the self from typical defensive responses to evaluation. We investigated whether brief training in self-compassion moderated biopsychological responses to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in women. Compared to attention (placebo) and no-training control conditions, brief self-compassion training diminished sympathetic (salivary alpha-amylase), cardiac parasympathetic, and subjective anxiety responses, though not HPA-axis (salivary cortisol) responses to the TSST. Self-compassion training also led to greater self-compassion under threat relative to the control groups. In that social stress pervades modern life, self-compassion represents a promising approach to diminishing its potentially negative psychological and biological effects.
Article
In this essay the author reflects on major developments in the educational and social purposes of higher education over the past two decades, especially as they relate to preparing students for citizenship, character and social responsibility in a global society. The author argues that colleges and universities have generally ignored outcomes related to moral and ethical development as well as other dimensions of personal development. Yet it is affective outcomes such as tolerance, honesty, self-understanding, and social responsibility that are required for effective leadership and citizenship in our increasingly complex world. Higher education must be viewed as a public good rather than a private benefit and embrace a broader educational mission that includes intellectual, emotional and social complexity outcomes.
Article
Objective: The aims of this study were to investigate the personality traits of suicide completers using the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) scale. Methods: Newly enrolled students who enrolled at Hokkaido University in 1999-2002 and 2004-2007 completed the TCI. Among these students, twenty subjects (2 females and 18 males) later completed suicide. We compared the TCI scales of these subjects with those of 60 (6 females and 54 males) well-matched controls. The controls were matched for age, gender, university department and year of enrollment in the university. Because the number of females was too small, the statistical analyses for the TCI subscales and logistic regression analysis were performed only with the 18 males. Results: A univariate analysis of seven personality dimensions on the TCI revealed higher scores of harm avoidance (HA) in subjects with suicide completion (P=0.034). Analysis of the male subjects showed that suicide completers had higher scores for anticipatory worry (HA1, P=0.007) and fear of uncertainty (HA2, P=0.036) and lower scores for spiritual acceptance (ST3, P=0.038) than did the controls. A multivariate analysis, which was performed to adjust confounding factors, demonstrated significantly higher scores for HA1 among suicide completers (P=0.01, OR=1.32). Conclusions: These results suggest that higher HA scores may predict suicide completion.
Article
One hundred and forty adolescent students were assessed on measures of attachment, social rank (social comparison and submissive behaviour), and depression and anxiety symptoms. Secure attachment was significantly correlated with positive social comparison and inversely with submissive behaviour, depression and anxiety symptoms. In contrast, insecure attachment of both avoidance and ambivalence was associated with unfavourable comparison with others, and positively correlated with submissive behaviour, depression and anxiety symptoms. Exploring the relationship of attachment with depression and anxiety symptoms revealed that this link might have different routes through social rank perceptions. For secure attachment, social rank concerns (i.e. social comparison and submissive behaviour) did not mediate the linkage with anxiety or depression symptoms. However, for insecure attachment, social rank concerns showed either a partial or complete mediation of these relationships. This data may indicate that insecure attachment sensitizes individuals to become focused on the competitive dynamics of groups, the power of others to shame, hurt or reject, and the need to defend against these possibilities.
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