The need for social connection is a fundamental human motive, and it is increasingly clear that feeling socially connected confers mental and physical health benefits. However, in many cultures, societal changes are leading to growing social distrust and alienation. Can feelings of social connection and positivity toward others be increased? Is it possible to self-generate these feelings? What is involved in such effort? In a series of studies, we used a brief loving-kindness meditation exercise to examine whether social connection could be created toward strangers in a controlled laboratory context. Compared with a closely matched control task, even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward novel individuals on both explicit and implicit levels. In a second study, we examined the neural correlates of successful compassion generation, and showed that feelings of compassion may depend on a less self-focused state of mind. In a third study, we examined the impact of individual differences on successful compassion generation. Our results suggest that this easily implemented technique may help to increase positive social emotions, and that individual differences on measures such as neuroticism and rejection sensitivity affect successful compassion generation, possibly via their impact on self-focused thought.

Emma Seppala

Stanford University

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Cendri Hutcherson

Stanford University

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