A growing literature has begun to document the effects of compassion training on a variety of important interpersonal behaviors (e.g., helping behavior). What is not yet well understood, however, is what impact compassion training has on affect and affect regulation. To examine this issue, we implemented a 9-week compassion training program in which 51 adults provided twice-daily ratings of four affective states (anxiety, calm, fatigue, alertness) as well as their desire and capability to regulate these affective states. In addition, participants provided weekly responses regarding five specific regulatory strategies. Analysis of day-to-day trajectories of affective experience showed a decrease in anxiety and increase in calmness. Day-to-day trajectories of affect regulation demonstrated that participants were more likely to choose to accept and thus not influence or modulate affective experience (as opposed to dampen, enhance, or hold on to or maintain the affective state). At the same time, participants also reported being more capable in meeting their respective regulatory goals. Finally, analysis of week-to-week trajectories of specific regulatory strategies over the course of the compassion training program demonstrated that participants shifted to lesser use of expressive suppression and greater acceptance when experiencing stress/anxiety. These results suggest that interventions such as compassion training may help modulate specific affective states and modify the use of and self-efficacy for specific regulatory strategies.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aldao, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: a meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 217–237. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2009.11.004.
Aldao, A., Jazaieri, H., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Adaptive and maladaptive emotion regulation strategies: interactive effects during CBT for social anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28, 382–389. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.03.005.
Bandura, A., Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Gerbino, M., & Pastorelli, C. (2003). Role of affective self-regulatory efficacy in diverse spheres of psychosocial functioning. Child Development, 74, 769–782. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00567.
Batson, C. D., Floyd, R. B., Meyer, J. M., & Winner, A. L. (1999). “And who is my neighbor?:” intrinsic religion as a source of universal compassion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 38, 445–457.
Brans, K., Koval, P., Verduyn, P., Lim, Y. L., & Kuppens, P. (2013). The regulation of negative and positive affect in daily life. Emotion, 13, 926–939. doi:10.1037/a0032400.
Brose, A., de Roover, K., Ceulemans, E., & Kuppens, P. (2015). Older adults’ affective experiences across 100 days are less variable and less complex than younger adults'. Psychology and Aging, 30, 194–208. doi:10.1037/a0038690.
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2062.
Chambers, R., Lo, B., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 303–322. doi:10.1007/s10608-007-9119-0.
Cohn, M. A., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). In search of durable positive psychology interventions: predictors and consequences of long-term positive behavior change. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 355–366. doi:10.1080/17439760.2010.508883.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: the uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 185–199.
Dahl, C. J., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Reconstructing and deconstructing the self: cognitive mechanisms in meditation practice. Trends in Cognitive Scienences, 19, 515–523. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.001.
Enders, C. K. (2001). The impact of nonnormality on full information maximum-likelihood estimation for structural equation models with missing data. Psychological Methods, 6, 352–370. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.6.4.352.
Engen, H. G., & Singer, T. (2015). Compassion-based emotion regulation up-regulates experienced positive affect and associated neural networks. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 1291–1301. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv008.
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. A. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045–1062. doi:10.1037/a0013262.
Goetz, T., Frenzel, A. C., Stoeger, H., & Hall, N. C. (2010a). Antecedents of everyday positive emotions: an experience sampling analysis. Motivation and Emotion, 34, 49–62. doi:10.1007/s11031-009-9152-2.
Goetz, J., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010b). Compassion: an evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 351–374. doi:10.1037/a0018807.
Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10, 83–91. doi:10.1037/a0018441.
Goldin, P. R., Manber, T., Hakimi, S., Canli, T., & Gross, J. J. (2009). Neural bases of social anxiety disorder: emotional reactivity and cognitive regulation during social and physical threat. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66, 170–180. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2008.525.
Goldin, P. R., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Werner, K., Kraemer, H., Heimberg, R. G., & Gross, J. J. (2012a). Cognitive reappraisal self-efficacy mediates the effects of individual cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80, 1034–1040. doi:10.1037/a0028555.
Goldin, P. R., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Hahn, K., & Gross, J. J. (2012b). MBSR vs. aerobic exercise in social anxiety disorder: fMRI of emotion regulation of negative self-beliefs. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8, 65–72. doi:10.1093/scan/nss054.
Goldin, P. R., Lee, I., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Heimberg, R. G., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Trajectories of change in emotion regulation and social anxiety during cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 56, 7–15. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2014.02.005.
Gratz, K. L., & Roemer, L. (2004). Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26, 41–54. doi:10.1023/B:JOBA.0000007455.08539.94.
Gross, J. J. (1998). Antecedent-and response-focused emotion regulation: divergent consequences for experience, expression, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 224. doi:10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.11.
Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291. doi:10.1017/S0048577201393198.
Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation: conceptual and empirical foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (2nd ed.). New York: Guildford Press.
Gross, J. J., & Jazaieri, H. (2014). Emotion, emotion regulation, and psychopathology: an affective science perspective. Clinical Psychological Science, 2, 387–401. doi:10.1177/2167702614536164.
Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 248–362. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1688.
Gross, J. J., & Thompson, R. A. (2007). Emotion regulation: conceptual foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 3–24). New York: Guilford Press.
Hayes, S. C., Jacobson, N. S., Follette, V. M., & Dougher, M. J. (1994). Acceptance and change: content and context in psychotherapy. Reno: Context Press.
Hayes, S. C., Wilson, K. G., Gifford, E. V., Follette, V. M., & Strosahl, K. (1996). Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: a functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 1152–1168.
Hayes, S. C., Bissett, R. T., Korn, Z., Zettle, R. D., Rosenfarb, I. S., Cooper, L. D., & Grundt, A. M. (2012). The impact of acceptance versus control rationales on pain tolerance. The Psychological Record, 49, 33–47.
Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychological Review, 31, 1126–1132. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.003.
Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8, 720–724. doi:10.1037/a0013237.
Jazaieri, H., Jinpa, T. L., McGonigal, K., Rosenberg, E., Finkelstein, J., Simon-Thomas, E., et al. (2013a). Enhancing compassion: a randomized controlled trial of a compassion cultivation training program. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1113–1126. doi:10.1007/s10902-012-9373-z.
Jazaieri, H., Urry, H. L., & Gross, J. J. (2013b). Affective disturbance and psychopathology: an emotion regulation perspective. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 4, 584–599. doi:10.5127/jep.030312.
Jazaieri, H., McGonigal, K. M., Jinpa, T. L., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of compassion cultivation training: effects on mindfulness, affect, and emotion regulation. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 23–35. doi:10.1007/s11031-013-9368-z.
Jazaieri, H., Lee, I. A., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R. (2016a). A wandering mind is a less caring mind: daily experience sampling during compassion meditation training. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 37–50. doi:10.1080/17439760.2015.1025418.
Jazaieri, H., Lee, I. A., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2016b). Pre-treatment social anxiety severity moderates the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction and aerobic exercise. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, doi:10.1111/papt.12060.
Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience in a military cohort. Emotion, 10, 54–64. doi:10.1037/a0018438.
Jinpa, T. L. (2015). A fearless heart: how the courage to be compassionate can transform our lives. New York: Hudson Street Press.
Jinpa, T. L., & Weiss, L. (2013). Compassion cultivation training (CCT). In T. Singer & M. Boltz (Eds.), Compassion: bridging practice and science. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.
John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2004). Healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation: personality processes, individual differences, and life span development. Journal of Personality, 72, 1301–1334. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00298.x.
Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2016). Effects of mindful acceptance and reappraisal training on maladaptive beliefs about rumination. Mindfulness, 7, 493–503. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0480-x.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932. doi:10.1126/science.1192439.
Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2012). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral Cortex, 23, 1552–1561. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs142.
Koopmann-Holm, B., Sze, J., Ochs, C., & Tsai, J. L. (2013). Buddhist-inspired meditation increases the value of calm. Emotion, 13, 497–505. doi:10.1037/a0031070.
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.
Levitt, J. T., Brown, T. A., Orsillo, S. M., & Barlow, D. H. (2004). The effects of acceptance versus suppression of emotion on subjective and psychophysiological response to carbon dioxide challenge in patients with panic disorder. Behavioral Therapy, 35, 747–766. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(04)80018-2.
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford.
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training manual (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2010). Mplus user’s guide. Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.
Neacsiu, A. D., Bohus, M., & Linehan, M. M. (2014). Dialectical behavior therapy skills: an intervention for emotion dysregulation. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (2nd ed., pp. 491–508). New York: Guilford.
Omoto, A. M., Malsch, A. M., & Barraza, J. A. (2009). Compassionate acts: motivations for and correlates of volunteerism among older adults. In B. Fehr, S. Sprecher, & L. G. Underwood (Eds.), The science of compassionate love: theory, research, and applications (pp. 257–282). Malden: Wiley–Blackwell.
Raes, F. (2010). Rumination and worry as mediators of the relationship between self-compassion and depression and anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 757–761. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.023.
Saslow, L. R., Willer, R., Feinberg, M., Piff, P. K., Clark, K., Keltner, D., & Saturn, S. (2013). My brother’s keeper? Compassion predicts generosity more among less religious individuals. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 31–38. doi:10.1177/1948550612444137.
Srivastava, S., Tamir, M., McGonigal, K. M., John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2009). The social costs of emotional suppression: a prospective study of the transition to college. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 883–897. doi:10.1037/a0014755.
Tamir, M., John, O. P., Srivastava, S., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Implicit theories of emotion: affective and social outcomes across a major life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 731–744. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1241.
Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 123–130. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.08.011.
Webb, T. L., Miles, E., & Sheeran, P. (2012). Dealing with feeling: a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies derived from the process model of emotion regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 775–808. doi:10.1037/a0027600.
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z. K., Olson, M. C., et al. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24, 1171–1180. doi:10.1177/0956797612469537.
Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–14. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693.
The authors would like to thank the handling editor as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments that strengthened this paper. We would also like to thank senior CCT teachers Margaret Cullen and Erika Rosenberg for their contributions to the development of the CCT protocol and teaching of CCT. Finally, we would like to thank Benjamin Olmsted for developing the app used in this research.
The research study was approved by the ethics committee at Stanford University, prior to participant recruitment.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
This research was supported by a Fetzer grant as well as funding from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
Human and Animal Rights
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants prior to their inclusion in the study.
About this article
Cite this article
Jazaieri, H., McGonigal, K., Lee, I.A. et al. Altering the Trajectory of Affect and Affect Regulation: the Impact of Compassion Training. Mindfulness 9, 283–293 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0773-3
- Affect regulation
- Affective trajectories
- Affect dynamics
- Diary study
- Experience sampling
- Ecological momentary assessment
- Multilevel analysis