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Evidence for self-compassionate talk: What do people actually say?

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Self-compassion research has relied heavily on self-report measures; less is known about its role in self-directed thoughts during challenging or stressful situations. A vignette measure portraying difficult hypothetical situations was developed to examine emerging adults’ self-directed thoughts, with a focus on identifying compassionate and uncompassionate thoughts of different kinds. An MTurk sample (N = 103) was used for the development of the vignette measure, and an undergraduate sample (N = 478) was used to assess its application. Participant responses were coded based on perceived function, resulting in 29 categories. Overall, thoughts that conveyed a lack of compassion were more common than compassionate thoughts. Factor analysis yielded six- and five-factor solutions for failure- and rejection-based vignettes, respectively. Three factors were common to both contexts: (1) Strong Negative responses included self-judgment and alienation; (2) Positive responses included self-encouragement, self-care, social reasoning and problem-solving; and (3) Externalizing responses involved blaming or devaluing people or activities. Component scores for the first two factors generally were associated with self-reported shame, self-criticism, self-esteem and self-compassion in the expected directions. In contrast, Externalization was inversely associated with guilt. Observation and conceptual categorization of self-compassionate and uncompassionate thoughts complements and informs questionnaire-based research.

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  1. Please contact the first author for information regarding how to access the complete coding manual.

  2. The narcissism category was the only category identified in the application but not the development sample.

  3. Please contact the first author for correlations with the positive and negative halves of the SCS.

  4. For zero-order correlations, the absolute value is the effect size (Cohen, 1992).


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Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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Correspondence to Elyse K. Redden.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

The General Research Ethics Board at the University of Guelph approved this study. We certify that this study is compliant with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later addenda. Informed consent was obtained from each participant in this study.

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table 7 Categories of automatic thoughts, explanations and examples

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Redden, E.K., Bailey, H., Katan, A. et al. Evidence for self-compassionate talk: What do people actually say?. Curr Psychol 42, 748–764 (2023).

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