December 2015 Shame and Self-Compassion Research Update

Every month, we scour the scientific literature for interesting studies that have practical implications for therapists working with shame, self-criticism, or compassion. Below are a few of our favorites for this month:

At ACT with Compassion, we aim to help people to form warmer, more secure relationships with themselves (e.g., via increased self-compassion) and with others (e.g., by recognizing their own social signaling and the impact it has on their relationships). This month, we highlight two papers which together comprise 7 studies indicating that priming attachment security may not only help our clients, but may also contribute to a more peaceful world.

Reducing prejudice through attachment security

In a series of four studies, the authors found that increasing a sense of attachment security led to reduced negative emotions about an outgroup as well as reduced outgroup harm. In studies 1a and 1b, the authors manipulated attachment security by inviting one group of participants to think about someone close and compared their behaviors and responses to a control group. They found that those primed to think about a close other showed reduced negative emotion toward an outgroup and that this effect was not due to increased positive emotion. In study 2, the authors measured outgroup harm by giving participants the chance to choose how many easy or difficult puzzles a member of an outgroup had to complete, where the more difficult puzzles meant the lower likelihood of getting a reward. They found that the attachment security prime led to assigning an easier puzzle task to the outgroup member. Finally, in study 3, outgroup harm was measured by the signing of petitions to aggressively target ISIS members. Results from the previous studies were replicated such that priming attachment security led to fewer petitions signed and this study also showed that negative emotion rather than negative beliefs mediated the effect.

Take away: When you help your clients to develop more secure self-to-self and self-to-other relations, you may indirectly be helping to make the world a more peaceful place.

Read more: 
Saleem, M., Prot, S., Cikara, M., Lam, B. C., Anderson, C. A., & Jelic, M. (2015). Cutting Gordian Knots: Reducing Prejudice Through Attachment SecurityPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0146167215601829.

The mediating effect of dehumanization in the link between attachment security and harsh actions against others

In a series of three studies, the authors demonstrated that attachment security leads to reduced outgroup harm via the reduction of dehumanization. In study 1, Participants were randomly assigned to a secure attachment prime in which they were instructed to relive a situation that left them feeling secure and warm or to a control condition. They were then told a story about a malfunctioning ATM giving out too much cash and a woman who made several withdrawals from this ATM and asked to rate the woman on her humanness and asked whether or not she should receive a harsh prison sentence. Those primed with attachment security rated her as more human, and were less likely to give the harsh sentence. In study 2, the same attachment security prime was used and participants were asked whether low income Chinese citizens should be forced to migrate to address a labor force supply issue. People who were primed with attachment security rated the citizens as more human and expressed less agreement with forced migration. In study 3, results demonstrated that priming nurturance appears to be the active ingredient in the attachment security prime, rather than simply imagining a close other.

Take away: These results replicate findings from the Saleem et al. study and provide additional evidence that secure self-to-self and self-to-other relations matter beyond the level of individual mental health.

Read more: 
Zhang, H., Chan, D. K. S., Teng, F., & Zhang, D. (2015). Sense of interpersonal security and preference for harsh actions against others: The role of dehumanizationJournal of Experimental Social Psychology56, 165-171.

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