Caring for Others Cares for the Self: An Experimental Test of Brief Downward Social Comparison, Loving-Kindness, and Interconnectedness Contemplations
Several strategies for decreasing anxiety and increasing subjective well-being have been tested and found to be useful, such as downward social comparison, loving-kindness contemplations, and interconnectedness contemplations. These, however, have not often been directly compared. Emerging adults contemplated one technique for 12 min while walking around a building. Those who wished others well (loving-kindness) had lower anxiety, greater happiness, greater empathy, and higher feelings of caring and connectedness than those in a control condition. The Interconnectedness condition resulted only in beneficial effects on social connection. Although social comparison theory suggests that downward social comparison should improve mood, this study found that it had no beneficial effects relative to the control condition and was significantly worse than the loving-kindness condition. This brief loving-kindness contemplation worked equally well across several measured individual differences, and is a simple intervention that can be used to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection.
KeywordsHappiness Well-being Social comparison Anxiety Intervention
This study was not funded by any external agency.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest to report.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee, in accordance with American Psychological Association ethical standards, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained for all participants.
- Buunk, B. P., Collins, R. L., Taylor, S. E., VanYperen, N. W., & Dakof, G. A. (1990). The affective consequences of social comparison: Either direction has its ups and downs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1238–1249. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: Emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 403–425. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0013262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Geher, G. (2014). Evolutionary Psychology 101. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Bellew, R., Mills, A., & Gale, C. (2009). The dark side of competition: How competitive behaviour and striving to avoid inferiority are linked to depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 82, 123–136. https://doi.org/10.1348/147608308x379806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Guitar, A. E., Glass, D. J., Geher, G., & Suvak, M. K. (2018). Situation-specific emotional states: Testing Nesse and Ellsworth’s (2009) model of emotions for situations that arise in goal pursuit using virtual world software. Current Psychology., 10, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-9830-x.Google Scholar
- Houchins, S. C. (2013). Mechanisms and Outcomes of Metta Meditation. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan).Google Scholar
- Leppma, M. (2011). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on empathy, perceived social support, and problem-solving appraisal in counseling students. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Central Florida).Google Scholar
- Loewen, P. J., Lyle, G., & Nacheshen, J. S. (2009). An eight-item form of the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and an application to charitable giving. http://individual.utoronto.ca/loewen/Research_files/Eight%20Question%20ES_final.pdf. Accessed 20 Mar 2019.
- Marsh, H. W., & Parker, J. W. (1984). Determinants of student self-concept: Is it better to be a relatively large fish in a small pond even if you don’t learn to swim as well? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(1), 213–231. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mipham, S. (2012). Running with the mind of meditation: Lessons for training the body and spirit. NY: Harmony.Google Scholar
- Monier-Williams, M. (1964). A dictionary English and Sanskrit. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar
- Weibel, D. T. (2007). A loving-kindness intervention: Boosting compassion for self and others (Doctoral dissertation, Ohio University).Google Scholar