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02-06-2016 | ORIGINAL PAPER | Uitgave 5/2016 Open Access

Mindfulness 5/2016

Trait Self-Compassion Reflects Emotional Flexibility Through an Association with High Vagally Mediated Heart Rate Variability

Mindfulness > Uitgave 5/2016
Julie Lillebostad Svendsen, Berge Osnes, Per-Einar Binder, Ingrid Dundas, Endre Visted, Helge Nordby, Elisabeth Schanche, Lin Sørensen
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s12671-016-0549-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
A correction to this article is available online at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s12671-018-1007-z.


Converging evidence shows a positive effect of self-compassion on self-reported well-being and mental health. However, few studies have examined the relation between self-compassion and psychophysiological measures. In the present study, we therefore examined the relation between trait self-compassion and vagally mediated heart rate variability (vmHRV) in 53 students (39 female, mean age = 23.63). Trait self-compassion was assessed using the Self-Compassion Scale, and resting vmHRV was measured during a 5-min ECG baseline period. We hypothesized that higher levels of trait self-compassion would predict higher levels of resting vmHRV. Controlling for potential covariates (including age, gender, and BMI), the results confirmed our hypotheses, showing that higher levels of trait self-compassion predicted higher vmHRV. These results were validated with a 24-h measure of vmHRV, acquired from a subsample of the participants (n = 26, 16 female, mean age = 23.85), confirming the positive correlation between high trait self-compassion and higher vmHRV. The relation between trait self-compassion, vmHRV, self-reported trait anxiety (the trait scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; STAI) and self-reported rumination (the Rumination subscale of the Rumination-Reflection Questionnaire; RRQ-Rum) was also investigated. Higher levels of trait anxiety and rumination were highly correlated with low levels of trait self-compassion. Trait anxiety, but not rumination, correlated marginally significantly with the level of vmHRV. The findings of the present study indicate that trait self-compassion predicts a better ability to physiologically and psychologically adapt emotional responses. Possible implications and limitations of the study are discussed.

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