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Emotion. 2016 Aug;16(5):691-705. doi: 10.1037/emo0000119. Epub 2016 Mar 28.

Effects of compassion meditation on a psychological model of charitable donation.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado.
Institute for Cognitive Science, University of Colorado.
Department of Psychology, University of Texas.
Upaya Institute and Zen Center.


Compassion is critical for societal wellbeing. Yet, it remains unclear how specific thoughts and feelings motivate compassionate behavior, and we lack a scientific understanding of how to effectively cultivate compassion. Here, we conducted 2 studies designed to a) develop a psychological model predicting compassionate behavior, and b) test this model as a mediator of a Compassion Meditation (CM) intervention and identify the "active ingredients" of CM. In Study 1, we developed a model predicting compassionate behavior, operationalized as real-money charitable donation, from a linear combination of self-reported tenderness, personal distress, perceived blamelessness, and perceived instrumental value of helping with high cross-validated accuracy, r = .67, p < .0001. Perceived similarity to suffering others did not predict charitable donation when controlling for other feelings and attributions. In Study 2, a randomized controlled trial, we tested the Study 1 model as a mediator of CM and investigated active ingredients. We compared a smartphone-based CM program to 2 conditions-placebo oxytocin and a Familiarity intervention-to control for expectancy effects, demand characteristics, and familiarity effects. Relative to control conditions, CM increased charitable donations, and changes in the Study 1 model of feelings and attributions mediated this effect (pab = .002). The Familiarity intervention led to decreases in primary outcomes, while placebo oxytocin had no significant effects on primary outcomes. Overall, this work contributes a quantitative model of compassionate behavior, and informs our understanding of the change processes and intervention components of CM. (PsycINFO Database Record.

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