Not all types of meditation are the same: Mediators of change in mindfulness and compassion meditation interventions

Author: Pablo Roca1, Carmelo Vazquez2, Gustavo Diez3, Gonzalo Brito-Pons3, Richard J McNally4
1 School of Psychology, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. Electronic address:
2 School of Psychology, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
3 Nirakara Lab, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
4 Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA.
Conference/Journal: J Affect Disord
Date published: 2021 Feb 2
Other: Volume ID: 283 , Pages: 354-362 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.01.070. , Word Count: 263

The general aim of the study was to examine the relative effectiveness and mediators of change in standardized mindfulness and compassion interventions.

A sample of 431 participants enrolled in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR = 277) and a Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT = 154). The assessment before and after the program included a set of outcomes and mediators measures. A three-step data analysis plan was followed: ANCOVAs, Reliable Change Index, and mediations (simple and multiple).

Both interventions yielded increased mindfulness, decentering, body awareness, and self-compassion. Yet, present-moment awareness improvements (i.e., decentering, and body awareness) were significantly larger in the MBSR than in CCT, whereas socio-emotional changes (i.e., common humanity and empathic concern) were larger in the CCT than in MBSR. The magnitude of effect sizes ranged from medium to large. Furthermore, both mindfulness and compassion interventions yielded similar changes in psychological distress (i.e., stress, anxiety, and depression), maladaptive cognitive processes (i.e., rumination and thought suppression), and well-being. The mediation models showed that although the MBSR program seemingly relies on changes in present-moment awareness mechanisms (i.e., decentering and body awareness) to reduce psychological distress and to improve well-being, the CCT program seemingly achieves the same positive outcomes through changes in socio-emotional mechanisms (i.e., common-humanity and empathy concern).

Due to our naturalistic design in real-world community setting, it was infeasible to randomly assign participants to conditions.

Our results suggest that mindfulness and compassion programs operate through different pathways to reduce psychological distress and to promote well-being.

Keywords: Action mechanisms; Compassion; Mediators; Meditation types; Mindfulness.

PMID: 33578349 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.01.070