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:
Imagined touch may reduce pain perception and increase exploration
Two studies examined whether imagining being touched by a romantic partner in a supportive way led to heightened exploration motivation and buffered stress. In study 1, women were more likely to persist with the cold pressor pain task (exploration motivation) if they imagined supportive touch prior to the task, but this increase in exploration motivation was not seen in women who but imagined verbal support prior to the task. Imagined supportive touch led to lower pain ratings for women and men compared to imagined verbal support, but results are inconclusive because there was no difference between imagined touch condition and control conditions. In study 2, participants engaged in a very stressful public speaking task called the Trier Social Stress Test. Female and male participants who imagined touch reported less stress compared to each of the other conditions and also expressed more enthusiasm for the task compared to all other conditions. Results indicate that in some contexts, imagined touch might be more effective than imagined verbal support to create a sense of safety to approach difficult tasks and explore the environment.
Take away: We may want to consider incorporating more imagined touch into our compassionate imagery interventions with clients.
Jakubiak, B. K., & Feeney, B. C. (2016). Keep in touch: The effects of imagined touch support on stress and exploration. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Self-compassion enhances the effects of cognitive reappraisal for depression
Cognitive reappraisal (CR) is an emotion regulation strategy targeted by cognitive behavioral therapy. Evidence supporting the effectiveness of CR with major depressive disorder (MDD) is mixed. This study used a mood-induction procedure and examined whether a preparatory self-compassion practice or an emotion acceptance practice enhanced the effects of CR on depression in a sample with MDD. The authors found that self-compassion, but not acceptance, enhanced the effects of CR compared to a waitlist control. It is worth noting that in the current study, the negative mood induction included self-critical phrases (e.g., “I am a loser”). Additional work is needed to determine whether self-compassion work is particularly facilitative of CR for high self-critics and also to assess whether a self-compassion context is a more effective than an emotional acceptance context in using cognitive reappraisal as the two conditions did not differ from each other, only from the control.
Take away: This preliminary data suggests that cognitive change strategies, such as cognitive reappraisal may work better when nested inside a context of self-compassion.
Diedrich, A., Hofmann, S. G., Cuijpers, P., & Berking, M. (2016). Self-compassion enhances the efficacy of explicit cognitive reappraisal as an emotion regulation strategy in individuals with major depressive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 82, 1-10.
Savoring positive memories affects social safeness
In this study, the social Brief Broad-Minded Affective Coping (BMAC) technique was delivered online to a non-clinical sample. The BMAC is a method of guiding people to savor a positive social emotional memory. The authors tested whether administration of the BMAC would affect feelings of safeness, relaxation, social safeness, as well as negative emotions, and whether these results would be moderated by type of self-criticism or fear of compassion. They found small to moderate effects of the BMAC on improving all measures of positive emotion and social safeness as well as negative emotion. In addition, improvements were moderated by self-criticism such that the inadequate type of self-criticism predicted greater improvements, whereas the self-hating type predicted less improvement. Fear of compassion also predicted less improvement.
Take away: Savoring positive memories is a promising method of enhancing social safeness and associated emotions, especially for people who see themselves as inadequate. In addition, this study suggests that it is feasible to improve social safeness via a brief internet-based intervention.
Holden, N., Kelly, J., Welford, M., & Taylor, P. J. (2016). Emotional response to a therapeutic technique: The social Broad Minded Affective Coping. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.