Altering the Trajectory of Affect and Affect Regulation: the Impact of Compassion Training

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Contributions

HJ co-designed the study, executed the study, assisted with data analyses, and wrote the manuscript. KM taught CCT and assisted with editing of the manuscript. IL conducted data analyses and assisted with writing and editing of the manuscript. TJ created CCT and assisted with the editing of the manuscript. JD assisted with editing of the manuscript. JG collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. PG co-designed the study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hooria Jazaieri.

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The research study was approved by the ethics committee at Stanford University, prior to participant recruitment.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Funding

This research was supported by a Fetzer grant as well as funding from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).

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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.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants prior to their inclusion in the study.

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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

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Keywords

  • Affect
  • Affect regulation
  • Affective trajectories
  • Affect dynamics
  • Self-efficacy
  • Compassion
  • Diary study
  • Experience sampling
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Multilevel analysis