Meditation practices may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and relevant to disease. While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention, or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices that foster compassion. Accordingly, the current study examined the effect of compassion meditation on innate immune, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity. Sixty-one healthy adults were randomized to 6 weeks of training in compassion meditation (n = 33) or participation in a health discussion control group (n = 28) followed by exposure to a standardized laboratory stressor (Trier social stress test [TSST]). Physiologic and behavioral responses to the TSST were determined by repeated assessments of plasma concentrations of interleukin (IL)-6 and cortisol as well as total distress scores on the Profile of Mood States (POMS). No main effect of group assignment on TSST responses was found for IL-6, cortisol or POMS scores. However, within the meditation group, increased meditation practice was correlated with decreased TSST-induced IL-6 (rp = -0.46, p = 0.008) and POMS distress scores (rp = -0.43, p = 0.014). Moreover, individuals with meditation practice times above the median exhibited lower TSST-induced IL-6 and POMS distress scores compared to individuals below the median, who did not differ from controls. These data suggest that engagement in compassion meditation may reduce stress-induced immune and behavioral responses, although future studies are required to determine whether individuals who engage in compassion meditation techniques are more likely to exhibit reduced stress reactivity.
- Trier social stress test
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry