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Empathy and compassion are important components of prosocial behaviour which can lead to greater peer acceptance and positive relationships in children and adolescents. As mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been shown to be effective in increasing empathy and compassion among adults, we aimed to systematically review the current literature to see if mindfulness-based interventions increased empathy and compassion in children and adolescents.
We systematically searched six databases, yielding 540 potentially relevant papers. Eight additional papers were identified through hand searching. After removing duplicates and screening titles and abstracts, the first two authors independently applied the inclusion/exclusion criteria to 34 full-text papers, leaving 16 eligible for inclusion. Studies that contained children and adolescents between 5 and 18 years old, measured empathy or compassion in some form and contained a mindfulness-based intervention were included. The first two authors independently checked the studies for methodological quality and data were extracted and synthesised narratively.
We found convincing support in favour of MBIs increasing empathy in children and adolescents. Further, there was some evidence to suggest that MBIs increase self-compassion amongst this population and that this was correlated with an increase in mindfulness. Due to poor methodological quality in many of the included studies, these results should be interpreted with caution.
MBIs may be effective in increasing empathy and compassion in children and adolescents. Future research should concentrate on examining the mechanisms of change and the long-term effects of these interventions among a variety of different age groups and neurodiversity.
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References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the systematic literature review.
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- Do Mindfulness-Based Interventions Increase Empathy and Compassion in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review
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