Study explores compassion

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Results offer window into mind-body connection

Feeling compassion may go a long way to improving well-being in college students, says a recent study by University of Redlands researchers—even aside from the effect on those who receive kindness or empathy.

In the study, published in the Journal of American College Health, Religious Studies Professor Fran Grace, Psychology Professor Celine Ko, and Biology Professor Lisa Olson worked to further almost a decade of observation, data collection, and analyses of the health effects of practicing compassion.

The study builds upon what Grace has observed and documented—students who have taken her courses on contemplative practices report better academic achievement and overall flourishing. “One student measured his blood pressure regularly during the semester-long meditation course,” Grace says. “He said the course changed his outlook on life and helped to reduce [not only his blood pressure, but also]his anxiety and judgmental attitude.”

For the new research, funded through a Trust for the Meditation Process Foundation grant and U of R faculty research grants, study participants were randomly assigned either to take the semester-long seminar on compassion or to join a waitlist as the control group. The seminar focused on biographical models of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa; compassion teachings of world religions; inner cultivation of compassion through meditation and contemplative practices; and application of what they learned in community service. Participants completed assessments at the beginning and the end of the semester.

Undergraduate students were not only the subjects of the study, but also were involved in every aspect of the project, from experimental design to collection and analysis of data.

“The team found that students who took the course on compassion reported higher compassion, self-compassion, and mindfulness compared those who didn’t take it,” Ko says. “At the end of the semester, those who took the course also had lower salivary alpha-amylase, a physiological measure of stress, than those who didn’t take the course. This has important implications and warrants further study.”

Olson adds, “This mind-body connection is something scientists are learning more and more about, although people who have practiced meditation have understood it at a different level for centuries.”

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