Social approach and avoidance goals—which refer to individual differences in the desire to pursue rewards versus avoid negative experiences in social relationships—have numerous implications for the health and quality of social relationships. Although endorsement of these goals largely arises from people’s pre-dispositions towards approach and avoidance, in this research, we proposed that meditation training has the potential to beneficially influence the extent to which people adopt approach and avoidance goals. Specifically, we hypothesized that individuals who were randomly assigned to receive training in mindfulness or loving-kindness meditation would report differences in social approach and avoidance goals, as compared with those in a wait-list control condition, and that these effects would be mediated by differences in positive and negative emotions.
To examine these hypotheses, we drew upon a community-based, randomized intervention study of 138 midlife adults, who were assigned to receive mindfulness training, loving-kindness training, or no training in meditation.
As compared with the control condition, results demonstrated that loving-kindness training was directly associated with lower social avoidance goals, and indirectly associated with greater social approach goals, via enhanced positive emotion.
These results suggest loving-kindness meditation is a means by which people can beneficially influence their approach and avoidance tendencies, which likely plays an important role in enhancing their social relationships.