Compassion for the Self and Well-Being: Psychological and Biological Correlates of a New Concept
Date: 28 March 2016
University of Exeter
PhD in Psychology
This thesis applied a triangulation of behavioural and physiological methods to explore potential psychological and biological correlates accompanying the short-term cultivation of self-compassion in both healthy and clinical samples. Drawing on theory and previous research on self-compassion, the aim of this thesis was to investigate ...
This thesis applied a triangulation of behavioural and physiological methods to explore potential psychological and biological correlates accompanying the short-term cultivation of self-compassion in both healthy and clinical samples. Drawing on theory and previous research on self-compassion, the aim of this thesis was to investigate if the cultivation of self-compassion enhances positive affiliative affect and a greater tendency to prefer positively valenced information about the self. It was hypothesised that increased positive affiliative affect would be accompanied by the activation of the soothing and contentment system, a system characterised by the dynamic balancing of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. A series of four experimental psychophysiological studies in healthy individuals and those with a history of recurrent depression was conducted. The results of these broadly supported this hypothesis. Detailed exploration of the results indicated that the proposed protective effects of self-compassion via the stimulation of the soothing and contentment affect system and access to a more positive perception of the self may rely on important individual differences in levels of self-criticism, insecure attachment, and history of childhood adversity and might be made more challenging when there is an underlying psychopathology such as recurrent depression. In this context, the results of this thesis indicate that more indirect approaches to cultivate self-compassion like the compassionate body-scan or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) might enable these individuals to access and activate the soothing and contentment system. Taken together, this research suggests that the cultivation of self-compassion might contribute to resilience in the face of negative thoughts, memories, feelings and depressive symptoms, because it is accompanied by psychophysiological response patterns that are suggested to be associated with adaptive emotion regulation and self-soothing in times of distress.
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