To read the full study in Clinical Psychological Science, click here.
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Self-compassion and its cultivation in psychological interventions are associated with improved mental health and well-being. However, the underlying processes for this are not well understood. We randomly assigned 135 participants to study the effect of two short-term self-compassion exercises on self-reported-state mood and psychophysiological responses compared to three control conditions of negative (rumination), neutral, and positive (excitement) valence. Increased self-reported-state self-compassion, affiliative affect, and decreased self-criticism were found after both self-compassion exercises and the positive-excitement condition. However, a psychophysiological response pattern of reduced arousal (reduced heart rate and skin conductance) and increased parasympathetic activation (increased heart rate variability) were unique to the self-compassion conditions. This pattern is associated with effective emotion regulation in times of adversity. As predicted, rumination triggered the opposite pattern across self-report and physiological responses. Furthermore, we found partial evidence that physiological arousal reduction and parasympathetic activation precede the experience of feeling safe and connected.