Accumulating evidence from the last two decades suggests self-compassion is central to psychological well-being and reduced psychopathology symptoms. Loving-kindness meditations (LKMs), a mindfulness practice that involves sending feelings of kindness to oneself, loved ones, and all beings, may increase feelings of self-compassion. The aim of this meta-analysis is to evaluate the effect of LKMs on self-compassion in adults.
Peer-reviewed journal articles and dissertations written in English with adult samples, quantitative analysis of a LKM, and measured self-compassion using the Self-Compassion Scale were included in the meta-analysis. Seven articles met inclusion criteria following a systematic search.
We found a moderate overall effect of LKMs on self-compassion (g = 0.44, p < 0.0001), indicating LKMs are effective at increasing self-compassion in adults.
Self-compassion can be increased in adults using LKMs. Given the role of self-compassion in well-being, future research should test increasing self-compassion as a mechanism of the effect of LKMs on psychological health.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
References with an * indicate studies included in the meta-analysis
Arch, J. J., Brown, K. W., Dean, D. J., Landy, L. N., Brown, K. D., & Laudenslager, M. L. (2014). Self-compassion training modulates alpha-amylase, heart rate variability, and subjective responses to social evaluative threat in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 42, 49–58.
Buddhaghosa (1975). Path of purification. Buddhist Publication Society.
Bartel, C. (2009). Self-compassion: Ein neues konzept positiver selbstzuwendung. Eine deutsche adaptierung der “Self Compassion Scale”. (Doctoral dissertation, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany).
Barnard, L., & Curry, J. (2011). Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15(4), 289–303.
Borenstein, M., Hedges, L., Higgins, J., & Rothstein, H. (2021). Introduction to meta-analysis (Second ed.). John Wiley & Sons.
Card, N. A. (2012). Applied meta-analysis for social science research. The Guilford Press.
Cohen, J. (1992). Statistical power analysis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1(3), 98–101.
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.
Ferrari, M., Hunt, C., Harrysunker, A., Abbott, M. J., Beath, A. P., & Einstein, D. A. (2019). Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTs. Mindfulness, 10(8), 1455–1473.
Germer, C. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press.
Galante, J., Galante, I., Bekkers, M. J., & Gallacher, J. (2014). Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 1101–1114. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037249
Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 6–41. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12043
Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Matos, M., & Rivis, A. (2011). Fears of compassion: Development of three self-report measures. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84, 239–255. https://doi.org/10.1348/147608310X526511
Gilbert, P. (2019). Explorations into the nature and function of compassion. Current opinion in psychology, 28, 108–114.
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(11), 2259–2271.
Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351.
Goulet-Pelletier, J. C., & Cousineau, D. (2018). A review of effect sizes and their confidence intervals, part I: The Cohen’s d family. The Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 14(4), 242–265.
Gouveia, M. J., Carona, C., Canavarro, M. C., & Moreira, H. (2016). Self-compassion and dispositional mindfulness are associated with parenting styles and parenting stress: The mediating role of mindful parenting. Mindfulness, 7(3), 700–712.
Graser, J., Höfling, V., Weβlau, C., Mendes, A., & Stangier, U. (2016). Effects of a 12-week mindfulness, compassion, and loving kindness program on chronic depression: A pilot within-subjects wait-list controlled trial. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 30(1), 35–49.
Harrer, M., Cuijpers, P., Furukawa, T.A, & Ebert, D. D. (2019). Doing meta-analysis in R: A hands-on guide. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2551803. https://bookdown.org/MathiasHarrer/Doing_Meta_Analysis_in_R/
Higgins, J. P., & Thompson, S. G. (2002). Quantifying heterogeneity in a meta-analysis. Statistics in Medicine, 21(11), 1539–1558.
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.
Ioannidis, J., Patsopoulos, N., & Evangelou, E. (2007). Uncertainty in heterogeneity estimates in meta-analyses. BMJ, 335(7626), 914–916.
Jazaieri, H., Jinpa, T., McGonigal, K., Rosenberg, E. L., Finkelstein, J., Simon-Thomas, E., Cullen, M., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R. (2013). Enhancing compassion: A randomized controlled trial of a compassion cultivation training program. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1113–1126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-012-9373-z
Jefferson, F. A., Shires, A., & McAloon, J. (2020). Parenting self-compassion: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 11(9), 2067–2088. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01401-x
*Kearney, D. J., Malte, C. A., McManus, C., Martinez, M. E., Felleman, B., & Simpson, T. L. (2013). Loving-kindness meditation for posttraumatic stress disorder: A pilot study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(4), 426–434.
Kemeny, M. E., Foltz, C., Cavanagh, J. F., Cullen, M., Giese-Davis, J., Jennings, P., Rosenberg, E. L., Gillath, O., Shaver, P. R., Wallace, B. A., & Ekman, P. (2012). Contemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses. Emotion, 12, 338–350. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026118
*Kirby, J. N., & Baldwin, S. (2018). A randomized micro-trial of a loving-kindness meditation to help parents respond to difficult child behavior vignettes. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(5), 1614–1628.
*Kirby, J. N., & Laczko, D. (2017). A randomized micro-trial of a loving-kindness meditation for young adults living at home with their parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(7), 1888–1899.
Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., & Steindl, S. R. (2017). A meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 48(6), 778–792.
Kirby, J. N., Day, J., & Sagar, V. (2019). The ‘Flow’ of compassion: A meta-analysis of the fears of compassion scales and psychological functioning. Clinical Psychology Review, 70, 26–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2019.03.001
Kropp, A., & Sedlmeier, P. (2019). What makes mindfulness-based interventions effective? An Examination of Common Components. Mindfulness, 10(10), 2060–2072.
Minozzi, S., Cinquini, M., Gianola, S., Gonzalez-Lorenzo, M., & Banzi, R. (2020). The revised Cochrane risk of bias tool for randomized trials (RoB 2) showed low interrater reliability and challenges in its application. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 126, 37–44.
Neff, K. D. (2003a). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85–102.
Neff, K. D. (2003b). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
Neff, K. D. (2016). The self-compassion scale is a valid and theoretically coherent measure of self-compassion. Mindfulness, 7(1), 264–274.
Neff, K. D., & Faso, D. J. (2015). Self-compassion and well-being in parents of children with autism. Mindfulness, 6(4), 938–947.
Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69, 28–44. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.21923
Neff, K. D., & McGehee, P. (2010). Self-compassion and psychological resilience among adolescents and young adults. Self and Identity, 9(3), 225–240. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860902979307
Neff, K. D., Tóth-Király, I., Knox, M. C., Kuchar, A., & Davidson, O. (2021). The development and validation of the state self-compassion scale (long-and short form). Mindfulness, 12(1), 121–140.
Pepping, C. A., Davis, P. J., O’Donovan, A., & Pal, J. (2015). Individual differences in self-compassion: The role of attachment and experiences of parenting in childhood. Self & Identity, 14(1), 104–117. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2014.955050
Psychogiou, L., Legge, K., Parry, E., Mann, J., Nath, S., Ford, T., & Kuyken, W. (2016). Self-compassion and parenting in mothers and fathers with depression. Mindfulness, 7(4), 896–908. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0528-6
Page M. J., Higgins J. P. T., Sterne J. A. C. (2021a). Assessing risk of bias due to missing results in a synthesis. In J. P. T. Higgins, J. Thomas, J. Chandler, M. Cumpston, T. Li, M. J. Page, & V. A. Welch (Eds.), Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions version 6.2. Available from www.training.cochrane.org/handbook.
Page, M., McKenzie, J., Bossuyt, P., Boutron, I., Hoffmann, T., Mulrow, C., Shamseer, L., Tetzlaff J. M., Akl, E. A., Brennan, S. E., Chou, R., Glanville, J., Grimshaw, J. M., Hróbjartsson, A., Lalu, M. M., Li, T., Loder, E. W., Mayo-Wilson, E., McDonald, S., …Moher, D. (2021b). The PRISMA 2020 statement: An updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ (online), 372, N71
*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.
RStudio Team. (2022). RStudio: Integrated development environment for R. RStudio, PBC, Boston, MA. http://www.rstudio.com/.
Scarlet, J., Altmeyer, N., Knier, S., & Harpin, R. (2017). The effects of Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) on health-care workers. Clinical Psychologist, 21(2), 116–124.
*Shahar, B., Szepsenwol, O., Zilcha-Mano, S., Haim, N., Zamir, O., Levi-Yeshuvi, S., & Levit-Binnun, N. (2015). A wait-list randomized controlled trial of loving-kindness meditation programme for self-criticism. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(4), 346–356.
Shapiro, D. H., Jr. (1992). Adverse effects of meditation: A preliminary investigation of long-term meditators. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 39(1–4), 63.
Salzberg, S. (2004). Lovingkindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Shambhala Publications
Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for health care professionals: Results from a randomized trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(2), 164.
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(5), 1161–1180. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-014-0368-1
*Sheffield, K. (2017). Exploring loving kindness meditation; understanding the practice, and its relationship with wellbeing. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Northampton).
Sirois, F. M., Bögels, S., & Emerson, L. M. (2019). Self-compassion improves parental well-being in response to challenging parenting events. The Journal of Psychology, 153(3), 327–341. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2018.1523123
Strauss, C., Lever Taylor, B., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is compassion and how can we measure it? A review of definitions and measures. Clinical Psychology Review, 47, 15–27.
Sterne, J. A., Hernán, M. A., Reeves, B. C., Savović, J., Berkman, N. D., Viswanathan, M., Henry, D., Altman, D. G., Ansari, M. T., Boutron, I., Carpenter, J. R., Chan, A., Churchill, R., Deeks, J. J., Hróbjartsson, A., Kirkham, J., Jüni, P., Loke, Y. K., Pigott, T. D., ... & Higgins, J. P. (2016). ROBINS-I: A tool for assessing risk of bias in non-randomized studies of interventions. BMJ, 355
Sterne, J. A., Savović, J., Page, M. J., Elbers, R. G., Blencowe, N. S., Boutron, I., Cates, C. J., Cheng, H., Corbett, M. S., Eldridge, S. M., Emberson, J. R., Hernán, M. A., Hopewell, S., Hróbjartsson, A., Junqueira, D. R., Jüni, P., Kirkham, J. J., Lasserson, T., Li, T., ... & Higgins, J. P. (2019). RoB 2: a revised tool for assessing risk of bias in randomized trials. BMJ, 366
Wallace, B. A. (1999). Boundless heart: The four immeasurables. Snow Lion Publications.
*Weibel, D. T., McClintock, A. S., & Anderson, T. (2017). Does loving-kindness meditation reduce anxiety? Results from a randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 8(3), 565–571.
Yarnell, L. M., Stafford, R. E., Neff, K. D., Reilly, E. D., Knox, M. C., & Mullarkey, M. (2015). Meta-analysis of gender differences in self-compassion. Self and Identity, 14(5), 499–520.
Ying, Y. W. (2009). Contribution of self-compassion to competence and mental health in social work students. Journal of Social Work Education, 45, 309–323. https://doi.org/10.5175/JSWE.2009.200700072
Special thanks to Drs. Sylia Wilson and Megan Gunnar.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
Springer Nature or its licensor holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.
About this article
Cite this article
Reilly, E.B., Stuyvenberg, C.L. A Meta-analysis of Loving-Kindness Meditations on Self-Compassion. Mindfulness (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-022-01972-x
- Loving-kindness meditation