Skip to main content
Log in

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Compassion Meditation: Do They Affect Emotions in a Different Way?

  • Published:
Mindfulness Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Despite being often overlapped and used interchangeably in academic literature, loving-kindness meditation (LKM) and compassion meditation (CM) are also seen to have their distinct features. As a differential approach towards LKM and CM can promote a more accurate integration of these practices into the clinical field, it is worth studying their differential effects. The present preregistered study, thus, aimed to experimentally compare effects of single-session LKM and CM on first-time practitioners’ emotions.


Two hundred and one university students were randomly allocated to three (LKM, CM, and control) groups. The self-reported emotions were measured twice, before and after completing an assigned task.


Both LKM and CM significantly increased other-focused positive emotions, compared with the control condition. Both LKM and CM increased happiness and overall positive emotions and decreased sadness; however, the effect sizes of LKM were consistently larger compared to those of CM. Both LKM and CM significantly increased low arousal positive emotions, compared with the control condition.


LKM and CM represent two theoretically different practices. However, as they belong to the same tradition of meditation, they are similar in their intention of forming positive wishes towards self and others, and this appeared to have a positive effect on practitioners’ emotional experience. At the same time, LKM was found to be more effective in evoking positive emotions in first-time practitioners, compared with CM.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others

Data Availability

All data are available at the Open Science Framework (


  • Arguel, A., Lockyer, L., Chai, K., Pachman, M., & Lipp, O. V. (2019). Puzzle-solving activity as an indicator of epistemic confusion. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 163.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Braehler, C., Gumley, A., Harper, J., Wallace, S., Norrie, J., & Gilbert, P. (2013). Exploring change processes in compassion focused therapy in psychosis: results of a feasibility randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 52(2), 199–214.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Brooker, H., Wesnes, K. A., Ballard, C., Hampshire, A., Aarsland, D., Khan, Z., Stenton, R., McCambridge, L., & Corbett, A. (2019). An online investigation of the relationship between the frequency of word puzzle use and cognitive function in a large sample of older adults. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 34(7), 921–931.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Buddhaghosa, H. (2010). The path of purification (Visuddhimaga). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

  • Campos, D., Cebolla, A., Quero, S., Bretón-López, J., Botella, C., Soler, J., García-Campayo, J., Demarzo, M., & Baños, R. M. (2016). Meditation and happiness: mindfulness and self-compassion may mediate the meditation–happiness relationship. Personality and Individual Differences, 93, 80–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carson, J. W., Keefe, F. J., Lynch, T. R., Carson, K., Goli, V., Fras, A. M., & Thorp, S. R. (2005). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23(3), 287–304.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cheng, F. K., & Tse, S. (2015). Applying the Buddhist four immeasurables to mental health care: a critical review. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 34(1), 24–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dalai Lama, D. (2001). An open heart. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

  • Dalai Lama, D., & Ekman, P. (2008). Emotional awareness: overcoming the obstacles to psychological balance and compassion. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

  • Danucalov, M. A., Kozasa, E. H., Afonso, R. F., Galduroz, J. C., & Leite, J. R. (2017). Yoga and compassion meditation program improve quality of life and self-compassion in family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease patients: A randomized controlled trial. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 17(1), 85–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dunne, J. D., Thompson, E., & Schooler, J. (2020). Mindful meta-awareness: sustained and non-propositional. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28(8), 307–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Emmanuel, S. M. (2013). A companion to Buddhist philosophy. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Feldman, G., Greeson, J., & Senville, J. (2010). Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(10), 1002–1011.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Feliu-Soler, A., Pascual, J. C., Elices, M., Martín-Blanco, A., Carmona, C., Cebolla, A., Simón, V., & Soler, J. (2017). Fostering self-compassion and loving-kindness in patients with borderline personality disorder: a randomized pilot study. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(1), 278–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fiebert, M. S., & Mead, T. M. (1981). Meditation and academic performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 53(2), 447–450.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365–376.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 856–867.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gilbert, P. (2000). Social mentalities: internal ‘social’ conflicts and the role of inner warmth and compassion in cognitive therapy. In P. Gilbert & K. G. Bailey (Eds.), Genes on the couch: Explorations in evolutionary psychotherapy (pp. 118–150). Hove: Psychology Press.

  • Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15(3), 199–208.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion focused therapy. London: Routledge.

  • Gilbert, P., & Choden. (2014). Mindful compassion: how the science of compassion can help you understand your emotions, live in the present, and connect deeply with others. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

  • Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 13(6), 353–379.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilbert, P., Basran, J., MacArthur, M., & Kirby, J. N. (2019). Differences in the semantics of prosocial words: an exploration of compassion and kindness. Mindfulness, 10, 2259–2271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graser, J., & Stangier, U. (2018). Compassion and loving-kindness meditation: an overview and prospects for the application in clinical samples. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 26(4), 201–215.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Grossman, P., & Van Dam, N. T. (2011). Mindfulness, by any other name…: trials and tribulations of sati in Western psychology and science. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 219–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • He, X., Shi, W., Han, X., Wang, N., Zhang, N., & Wang, X. (2015). The interventional effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions and interpersonal interactions. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 11, 1273–1277.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hofmann, S. G. (2016). Emotion in therapy: from science to practice. New York: The Guilford Press.

  • Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(7), 1126–1132.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720–724.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ilies, I.-A., Egan, H., & Mantzios, M. (2019). Comparing state anxiety and mindfulness between mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation whilst controlling for the effect of altruism and boredom. Current Issues in Personality Psychology, 7(2), 109–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, S. B., Goodnight, B. L., Zhang, H., Daboin, I., Patterson, B., & Kaslow, N. J. (2017). Compassion-based meditation in African Americans: self-criticism mediates changes in depression. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 48(2), 160–168.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kearney, D. J., McManus, C., Malte, C. A., Martinez, M. E., Felleman, B., & Simpson, T. L. (2014). Loving-kindness meditation and the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Medical Care, 52, S32–S38.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, A. C., Wisniewski, L., Martin-Wagar, C., & Hoffman, E. (2017). Group-based compassion-focused therapy as an adjunct to outpatient treatment for eating disorders: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(2), 475–487.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kemper, K. J., McClafferty, H., Wilson, P. M., Serwint, J. R., Batra, M., Mahan, J. D., Schubert, C. J., Staples, B. B., & Schwartz, A. (2019). Do mindfulness and self-compassion predict burnout in pediatric residents? Academic Medicine, 94(6), 876–884.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kirby, J. (2016). Compassion interventions: the programmes, the evidence, and implications for research and practice. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 90(3), 432–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koopmann-Holm, B., Sze, J., Ochs, C., & Tsai, J. L. (2013). Buddhist-inspired meditation increases the value of calm. Emotion, 13(3), 497–505.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lang, P. J. (1980). Behavioral treatment and bio-behavioral assessment: computer applications. In J. B. Sidowski, J. H. Johnson, & T. A. Williams (Eds.), Technology in mental health care delivery systems (pp. 119–137). Norwood: Ablex.

  • Le Nguyen, K. D., Lin, J., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. M., Kim, S. L., Brantley, J., Salzberg, S., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2019). Loving-kindness meditation slows biological aging in novices: evidence from a 12-week randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 108(10), 20–27.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic benefits of compassion-focused therapy: an early systematic review. Psychological Medicine, 45(5), 927–945.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lemay, V., Hoolahan, J., & Buchanan, A. (2019). Impact of a yoga and meditation intervention on students’ stress and anxiety levels. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 83(5), 747–752.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lin, J. W., & Mai, L. J. (2016). Impact of mindfulness meditation intervention on academic performance. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 55(3), 366–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lotan, G., Tanay, G., & Bernstein, A. (2013). Mindfulness and distress tolerance: relations in a mindfulness preventive intervention. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 6(4), 371–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luberto, C. M., Shinday, N., Song, R., Philpotts, L. L., Park, E. R., Fricchione, G. L., & Yeh, G. Y. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of meditation on empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors. Mindfulness, 9, 708–724.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lv, J., Liu, Q., Zeng, X., Oei, T. P. S., Liu, Y., Xu, K., Sun, W., Hou, H., & Liu, J. (2020). The effect of four immeasurables meditations on depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 76, 101814.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

  • Neff, K. D. (2015). The five myths of self-compassion. Psychotherapy Networker, 39, 30–35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Noorbala, F., Borjali, A., Ahmadian-Attari, M. M., & Noorbala, A. A. (2013). Effectiveness of compassionate mind training on depression, anxiety, and self-criticism in a group of Iranian depressed patients. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 8(3), 113–117.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018). Brief mindfulness meditation improves attention in novices: evidence from ERPs and moderation by neuroticism. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 315.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Rao, N., & Kemper, K. J. (2017). Online training in specific meditation practices improves gratitude, well-being, self-compassion, and confidence in providing compassionate care among health professionals. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(2), 237–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salzberg, S. (2020). Lovingkindness: the revolutionary art of happiness. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

  • Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Meditation: Neuroscientific approaches and philosophical implications. Springer. 

  • Seppälä, E. M., Simon-Thomas, E., Brown, S. L., Worline, M. C., Cameron, C. D., & Doty, J. R. (Eds.). (2017). The Oxford handbook of compassion science. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Shahar, B., Szepsenwol, O., Zilcha-Mano, S., Haim, N., Zamir, O., Levi-Yeshuvi, S., & Levi-Binnun, N. (2015). A wait-list randomized controlled trial of loving-kindness meditation programme for self-criticism. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(4), 346–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: a systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161–1180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stefan, S. I., & Hofmann, S. G. (2019). Integrating metta into CBT: how loving kindness and compassion meditation can enhance CBT for treating anxiety and depression. Clinical Psychology in Europe, 1(3), 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suk, H.-J. (2006). Color and emotion – a study on the affective judgment across media and in relation to visual stimuli. [doctoral dissertation, University of Mannheim]. Mannheim electronic document server.

  • Tirch, D. (2012). The compassionate mind approach to overcoming anxiety. London: Robinson Publishing.

  • van den Brink, E., & Koster, F. (2015). Mindfulness-based compassionate living – a new training programme to deepen mindfulness with heartfulness. London: Routledge.

  • Wallace, B. A. (2001). Intersubjectivity in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8(5–7), 209–230.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, B. A. (2007). Contemplative science: Where Buddhism and neuroscience converge. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

  • 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, 1693.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Zeng, X., Chan, V. Y., Liu, X., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2017). The four immeasurables meditations: differential effects of appreciative joy and compassion meditations on emotions. Mindfulness, 8, 949–959.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors are grateful to Dr. John H. Riskind for facilitating data collection from the undergraduate pool at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA; to Dr. Tomas Jurcik for assisting in developing the research design; and to Eleanor A. Jones for editing the first draft of the paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



US conceptualized the study and collected, processed, and analyzed the data. Both authors developed the design and prepared the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ulyana Sirotina.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of George Mason University Institutional Review Board, IRBnet ID 1409126-1, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 26 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sirotina, U., Shchebetenko, S. Loving-Kindness Meditation and Compassion Meditation: Do They Affect Emotions in a Different Way?. Mindfulness 11, 2519–2530 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: