Gary Burns (Committee Member), Joseph Houpt (Committee Member), Patricia Schiml (Committee Member), Tamera Schneider (Advisor)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The purpose of the present research was to examine the influence of meditation experience on biopsychosocial responses to stress, empathy, and sense of self. An expanded sense of self was examined as a pathway through which meditation experience influences appraisals, affect, and empathy. It was expected that meditation experience would predict greater challenge stressor appraisals in response to an acute psychosocial stressor and associated affective, behavioral, and psychophysiological stress outcomes. In addition, it was expected that greater meditation experience would predict higher trait empathy and empathic accuracy. Participants (N = 110) included experienced meditators from a variety of practices and people who were interested in meditation, but are otherwise non-meditators. Participants reported state affect, trait empathy, and selflessness at baseline, and then reported appraisals and affect regarding an impending stressor. Performance and cardiovascular physiology were recorded continuously during the stressor. Finally, participants watched a video of a target engaging with the same stressor. Participants were instructed to guess the target's affective state, which was used to discern empathic accuracy. Findings revealed that meditation predicted increased positive affect in response to the stressor and some aspects of performance. Meditation experience also predicted less personal distress, a subcomponent of trait empathy. Lastly, path analyses showed that an expanded sense of self fully mediated the relation between meditation and increased positive affect in response to the stressor. This research provides some evidence that meditation facilitates positive stress outcomes and a subcomponent of empathy, and provides a novel mechanism through which meditation upregulates positive affect – by promoting an sense of self that is boundless and connected.
Department or Program
Department of Psychology
Year Degree Awarded
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