Compassion training increases closeness to a disliked person


There is an increasing sense that communities are becoming more divided. Stoked by anti-social leaders, the silos created by social media, and rising economic anxiety, isolation, anger, and prejudice is on the rise.

And yet, sadly, it is the opposite force that is needed if we’re to meet escalating global challenges. Climate change, war, poverty: these are problems that require us to work together – pooling skills and resources rather than be in conflict. Studies which show, therefore, how we can overcome divisions  will offer essential lessons for the future of humanity. 

The study

A new research study examined whether a five week compassion training was more effective than a language training or a reappraisal training that taught participants emotion regulation strategies. Over one hundred participants were randomly assigned into one of the three conditions. In the first group, participants learned compassion through meditation practices that invited them to visualize giving kindness toward themselves, others, and those they don’t get along with. In the second condition, the group learned reappraisal training, or how to think more positively about an unpleasant event. In the last condition, the control group learned a foreign language. The investigators were curious whether these trainings would affect the participants’ sense of interpersonal closeness with someone they disliked using misfortunate scenarios. 


The researchers found that both compassion and reappraisal training reduced participants’ sense of dislike to the person in the misfortune scenario. However, only those participants in the compassion training group increased their sense of closeness with the disliked person. The researchers speculate that fostering a sense of closeness could also be a central mechanism for enhancing difficult social situations. Compassion serves as an important element in human relationships and might be influenced through intentional training.

Read the full results here. 

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