Date of Award

8-31-2018

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Lizabeth Roemer

Second Advisor

Tiffany Donaldson

Third Advisor

Keith Welker

Abstract

The ability to sense and understand the emotional experiences of others is crucial for interpersonal connection and is likely to be inhibited in the context of perceived differences. Mindfulness, an awareness of the present-moment that is non-judgmental, accepting, open, and compassionate, may enhance the ability to empathically connect with and understand others by intentionally shifting attention toward the other person’s experience, enhancing self-other awareness, and enhancing the ability to tolerate contact with difficult emotions. This study explored association between mindfulness, emotion regulation, and empathy to determine whether mindfulness practice could be an effective method for cultivating empathy.

The study tested the hypotheses that (1) mindfulness would positively correlate with empathy and (2) emotion regulation would mediate the positive association between mindfulness and empathy. As hypothesized, trait mindfulness was positively correlated with trait empathy and trait difficulties with emotion regulation partially mediated this association. Unexpectedly, trait mindfulness did not predict greater state empathy or empathic action. Additionally a brief mindfulness intervention did not have a significant effect on state empathy. Interestingly, participants who were randomized to receive a brief mindfulness intervention were more likely to engage in empathic action, even though they did not score higher on measures of state empathy than individuals in the distraction condition.

These results provide preliminary evidence that those who are more likely to attend to the present moment on a daily basis are also more likely to be empathic on a daily basis, and that this association is partly mediated by the ability to tolerate and regulate difficult emotions. This study also indicates that there may be a difference between behavioral empathy and emotional empathy, and that behavioral empathy might be facilitated with a brief mindfulness intervention even if the intervention does not change the capacity to be emotionally attuned to the suffering of others. However, more research is needed to understand the role of mindfulness and emotion regulation in emotional and behavioral empathy in order to develop effective interventions to improve emotional connection across difference, and promote values congruent action in the face of difficult emotions.

Comments

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Available for download on Friday, August 31, 2018

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