Understanding the Self-compassionate Mindset in Older Adults
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Self-compassion has been shown to predict well-being, possibly by buffering people against the unpleasant emotional and cognitive reactions that accompany negative life events. Although most previous research has been conducted with young adults, preliminary studies show that self-compassion may be beneficial for older adults. Three studies tested self-compassion's impact on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with aging using samples of individuals between the ages of 62 and 104. Study 1 examined self-compassion as it relates to health promotion behaviors, specifically use of assistance and trying new activities. Although some findings supported the hypotheses, results showed that high and low self-compassionate individuals did not differ in their use of assistance or willingness to try new activities. Study 2 implemented a brief self-compassion manipulation to test its effects on thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, random assignment failed to equate the experimental conditions, rendering the results difficult to interpret. After controlling for baseline self-compassion, the manipulation did not have the predicted effects on well-being. In fact, participants seemed to benefit more when merely writing about negative events than when writing about them in a self-compassionate fashion. Finally, Study 3 examined self-compassionate cognitions, specifically whether or not self-compassionate thoughts mediate the relationship between trait self-compassion and emotional well-being. Self-compassionate participants did think differently than their low self-compassion counterparts, and these cognitions mediated the relationship between self-compassion and positivity of their responses. However, cognitions did not mediate the relationship between trait self-compassion and emotion outcomes. Two possible explanations for the unexpected results of the three studies include the relatively healthy nature of the sample and the strength of the self-compassion manipulation. Suggestions for future research include examining how self-compassion relates to the motivations behind engaging in health promotion, allowing participants to write more freely in the self-compassion manipulations, and bringing self-compassion research with older adults into controlled laboratory settings.
DepartmentPsychology and Neuroscience
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