, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1699–1712 | Cite as

Psychological and Physiological Effects of Compassionate Mind Training: a Pilot Randomised Controlled Study

  • Marcela Matos
  • Cristiana Duarte
  • Joana Duarte
  • José Pinto-Gouveia
  • Nicola Petrocchi
  • Jaskaran Basran
  • Paul Gilbert


The development of the compassionate self, associated with practices such as slow and deeper breathing, compassionate voice tones and facial expressions and compassionate focusing, is central to Compassion-Focused Therapy. This study explores the impact of a 2-week compassionate mind training (CMT) program on emotional, self-evaluative and psychopathology measures and on heart rate variability (HRV). Participants (general population and college students) were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: CMT (n = 56) and wait-list control (n = 37). Participants in the CMT condition were instructed to practice CMT exercises during 2 weeks. Self-report measures of compassion, positive affect, fears of compassion, self-criticism, shame, depression, anxiety and stress and HRV were collected at pre- and post-interventions in both conditions. Compared to the control group, the experimental group showed significant increases in positive emotions, associated with feeling relaxed and also safe and content, but not activated, and in self-compassion, compassion for others and compassion from others. There were significant reductions in shame, self-criticism, fears of compassion and stress. Only the experimental group reported significant improvement in HRV. Developing awareness of the evolved nature and inherent difficulties of our minds allied with practicing CMT exercises has beneficial effects on participants’ psychological and physiological well-being.


Compassion Intervention Imagery Psychopathology Self-criticism Heart rate variability 



This research was supported by the first author’s (Marcela Matos) post-doctoral grant number SFRH/BPD/84185/2012, sponsored by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). This work was also partly funded by the Compassionate Mind Foundation charity (

Author Contributions

MM designed and executed the study, performed the data analyses and wrote the paper. CD assisted with the design and implementation of the study, data analyses and writing of the paper. JD assisted with the design and implementation of the study, data analyses and writing of the paper. JPG collaborated with the design of the study and discussion of results. NP analysed the HRV data and wrote part of the results. JB collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. PG designed the study, collaborated in the data analyses and discussion of results and wrote the paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognitive and Behavioural Centre for Research and Intervention, CINEICC, Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.John Cabot UniversityRomeItaly
  3. 3.Centre for Compassion Research and TrainingUniversity of Derby, College of Health and Social Care Research CentreDerbyUK

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