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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
For example, using G-Power test for a four-group ANOVA, fixed effects, omnibus one-way yielded a total sample size of 280 for power = 0.95. Similarly, testing a four-group MANOVA, fixed effects, special, main effects and interactions model yielded a total sample size of 400 for power = 0.95. These were used as a conservative sample size estimate, as t test models yielded somewhat smaller sizes when comparing two groups as our planned comparison approach dictates.
Only one interaction out of these 108 achieved statistical significance at the p < .05 level. General Contentedness interacted with the Downward Social Comparison condition, but only for the outcome connectedness. Specifically, moderately content people tended to be more influenced to feel less connected after the downward social comparison intervention.
It is somewhat odd that the only significant interactions between high trait mindfulness and condition were on overall life satisfaction, a trait-like global judgment that shouldn’t be highly susceptible to short-term manipulations. Perhaps this means that highly mindful people can shift their global outlook better than others, but if so, why was the interaction only significant for this outcome and not on happiness, anxiety, empathy, etc.? Perhaps this is only a statistical artifact of the total number of interactions tested (120). Future studies could examine this in more depth.
Amoroso, D. M., & Walters, R. H. (1969). Effects of anxiety and socially mediated anxiety reduction on paired-associate learning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,11(4), 388–396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0027261.
Batson, C. D., Early, S., & Salvarani, G. (1997). Perspective taking: Imagining how another feels versus imaging how you would feel. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(7), 751–758.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin,117, 497–529. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497.
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/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.528.
Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1982). The need for cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42(1), 116.
Carson, J. W., Keefe, F. J., Lynch, T. R., Carson, K. M., Goli, V., Fras, A. M., et al. (2005). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain results from a pilot trial. Journal of Holistic Nursing,23(3), 287–304. https://doi.org/10.1177/0898010105277651.
Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24(4), 385–396.
Diebels, K. J., & Leary, M. R. (2018). The psychological implications of believing that everything is one. The Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2018.1484939.
Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin,95, 542–575. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.542.
Diener, E. D., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75.
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.
Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin,125(2), 276–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.276.
Duong, J., & Bradshaw, C. (2014). Associations between bullying and engaging in aggressive and suicidal behaviors among sexual minority youth: The moderating role of connectedness. Journal of School Health,84(10), 636–645. https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.12196.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations,7(2), 117–140. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872675400700202.
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.
Geher, G. (2014). Evolutionary Psychology 101. New York: Springer.
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.
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.
Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1995). A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review,102(2), 284–304. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.102.2.284.
Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2002). The oxford happiness questionnaire: A compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(7), 1073–1082.
Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review,31(7), 1126–1132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.003.
Houchins, S. C. (2013). Mechanisms and Outcomes of Metta Meditation. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan).
Kristeller, J. L., & Johnson, T. (2005). Cultivating loving kindness: A two-stage model of the effects of meditation on empathy, compassion, and altruism. Zygon,40(2), 391–408. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2005.00671.x.
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).
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/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.206.
Marteau, T. M., & Bekker, H. (1992). The development of a six-item short-form of the state scale of the Spielberger State—Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 31(3), 301–306.
Mipham, S. (2012). Running with the mind of meditation: Lessons for training the body and spirit. NY: Harmony.
Monier-Williams, M. (1964). A dictionary English and Sanskrit. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Morse, S., & Gergen, K. J. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency, and the concept of self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,16(1), 148–156. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0029862.
Raskin, R., & Terry, H. (1988). A principal-components analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and further evidence of its construct validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 890.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist,55(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well–being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,57, 839–852. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.119.
Taylor, S. E., & Lobel, M. (1989). Social comparison activity under threat: Downward evaluation and upward contacts. Psychological Review,96(4), 569–575. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.96.4.569.
Thayer, R. E., Newman, R., & McClain, T. M. (1994). Self-regulation of mood: Strategies for changing a bad mood, raising energy, and reducing tension. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,67, 910–925. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1680.
Vanhalst, J., Luyckx, K., Raes, F., & Goossens, L. (2012). Loneliness and depressive symptoms: The mediating and moderating role of uncontrollable ruminative thoughts. The Journal of Psychology,146(1–2), 259–276. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2011.555433.
Walach, H., Buchheld, N., Buttenmüller, V., Kleinknecht, N., & Schmidt, S. (2006). Measuring mindfulness—the Freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Personality and Individual Differences, 40(8), 1543–1555.
Weibel, D. T. (2007). A loving-kindness intervention: Boosting compassion for self and others (Doctoral dissertation, Ohio University).
Wheeler, L., & Miyake, K. (1992). Social comparison in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,62(5), 760–773. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1240.
Wills, T. A. (1981). Downward comparison principles in social psychology. Psychological Bulletin,90, 245–271. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.90.2.245.
This study was not funded by any external agency.
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.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Gentile, D.A., Sweet, D.M. & He, L. Caring for Others Cares for the Self: An Experimental Test of Brief Downward Social Comparison, Loving-Kindness, and Interconnectedness Contemplations. J Happiness Stud 21, 765–778 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00100-2
- Social comparison