An Examination of Whether Hearing a Display of Self-Compassion in Someone Else Impacts One's Own Level of Self-Compassion
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Self-compassion is the ability to be kind and understanding towards oneself in times of distress or failure (Neff, 2003a). Self-compassion in adulthood is linked to childhood experiences of care and compassion (Gilbert 2005), and is associated with a number of positive outcomes. Experimental studies show that self-compassion increases in response to explicit instruction (Leary et al., 2007); however, the implicit effect of one’s current social interactions on self-compassion remains unknown. This study examined whether hearing someone talk self-compassionately about an academic failure would unconsciously increase the listener’s self-compassion levels when recalling their own personal failure. Participants were 90 female undergraduates. In session 1, they completed the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965) and the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) (Neff, 2003). In session 2, participants recalled a personal academic failure. They then listened to an audio clip of someone describing her academic failure in a self-compassionate, self-esteem preserving, or factual way. Participants subsequently completed measures of affect and state self-compassion vis-à-vis their failure. Results showed that controlling for trait self-compassion and self-esteem, there was a significant effect of condition on state self-compassion such that those in the self-compassion condition reported significantly higher state self-compassion compared to the other two conditions. There was also a main effect of condition on negative affect (NA). Contrasts revealed that controlling for pre-manipulation NA, those in the self-compassion condition had significantly lower NA after hearing the audio clip than those in the other two conditions. Findings are the first to indicate that exposure to another person’s display of self-compassion has a significant effect on one’s own self-compassion levels and affect. These findings also suggest that raising self-compassion may not require targeted individual interventions; rather, modeling self-compassionate behavior may be sufficient to quickly yield higher self-compassion in others. Additional implications and directions for future research are discussed.