Implicit or Explicit Compassion? Effects of Compassion Cultivation Training and Comparison with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction

Abstract

Mindfulness-based interventions generally include compassion implicitly, but it remains to be seen whether implicit compassion training can be effective, or if it needs to be trained explicitly through specific meditations and relational practices. This research study had two specific goals. The first was to expand the literature on the effects of compassion-based interventions (CBIs) by assessing the impact of the Compassion Cultivation Training program (CCT) on anxiety, depression, stress, life satisfaction, happiness, mindfulness, empathy, self-compassion, compassion for others, and identification with all humanity, through a wait-list randomized controlled trial in a community sample (study 1). Secondly, this research addressed the following question: Does a CBI—an explicit compassion training—have a differential impact in terms of empathy, compassion, and identification with all humanity, compared to a mindfulness-based intervention (mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)) in which compassion is taught implicitly? (study 2). Groups were assessed at baseline, post-intervention, and 2-month follow-up, and analyses involved repeated-measures of analysis of variance (ANOVA) for group contrasts. Compared to the wait-list group, CCT participants showed significant improvements in psychological well-being (decreased depression and stress, increases in life satisfaction, happiness, mindfulness, and self-compassion) and compassion skills. Both MBSR and CCT were effective in generally enhancing psychological well-being and increasing mindfulness and compassion, but CCT had a greater impact on developing compassionate skills, especially empathic concern and identification with all humanity. This research highlights the potential for a complementary (rather than competitive) relationship between mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions.

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Acknowledgements

Jenny Wade and Ricardo Pulido made contributions to the study design. Ricardo Pulido and Susana Tolosa delivered MBSR programs at Universidad Alberto Hurtado. CIBERobn is an initiative of ISCIII.

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GBP designed and executed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. DC and AC: analyzed the data, wrote the results, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ausiàs Cebolla.

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Brito-Pons, G., Campos, D. & Cebolla, A. Implicit or Explicit Compassion? Effects of Compassion Cultivation Training and Comparison with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. Mindfulness 9, 1494–1508 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0898-z

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Keywords

  • Compassion
  • Mindfulness
  • Empathy
  • Meditation
  • Training