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The Head and the Heart: Effects of Understanding and Experiencing Lovingkindness on Attitudes Toward the Self and Others

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Formation and maintenance of compassionate and loving attitudes toward the self and others is essential for adaptive social functioning. In this study, we use lovingkindness meditation to enhance positive attitudes toward the self and others. Meditation-based programs often include several components for which specific effects and dynamics are largely unknown, precluding conclusive support for their effectiveness. The present study tested actions underlying two main components of lovingkindness meditation programs: discussion and meditation. Discussion focuses on a conceptual understanding of lovingkindness, whereas meditation focuses on direct experiences and cultivation of lovingkindness. Participants (n = 54) were randomly assigned either to attend a 6-week lovingkindness discussion course or to be waitlisted for 6 weeks, both followed by attending a 6-week lovingkindness meditation course. Attending the lovingkindness discussion course alone had beneficial effects on attitudes toward the self, but not others. Attending the lovingkindness meditation course had additional positive impacts on attitudes toward the self and others. These findings suggest that understanding ideas of lovingkindness through knowledge-based discussion without meditation may be sufficient to create positive changes in the view of self. However, for more comprehensive changes in attitude toward others, direct experiences of lovingkindness through meditation may be necessary.

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Authors thank Lama Tsondru, Kathryn Redford and Daniel Millstein for their contributions. All meditation course materials are available by request from the corresponding author. This study was a part of a larger investigation on the effect of lovingkindness meditation on intergroup attitudes (reported in Kang et al. 2013a).

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Correspondence to Yoona Kang.

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Kang, Y., Gray, J.R. & Dovidio, J.F. The Head and the Heart: Effects of Understanding and Experiencing Lovingkindness on Attitudes Toward the Self and Others. Mindfulness 6, 1063–1070 (2015).

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