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Compassion, the emotional response of caring for another who is suffering and that results in motivation to relieve suffering, is thought to be an emotional antecedent to altruistic behavior. However, it remains unclear whether compassion enhances altruistic behavior in a uniform way or is specific to sub-types of behavior such as altruistic helping of a victim or altruistic punishment of a transgressor. We investigated the relationship between compassion and subtypes of altruistic behavior using third-party paradigms where participants 1) witnessed an unfair economic exchange between a transgressor and a victim, and 2) had the opportunity to either spend personal funds to either economically a) help the victim or b) punish the transgressor. In Study 1, we examined whether individual differences in self-reported empathic concern (the emotional component of compassion) was associated with greater altruistic helping or punishment behavior in two independent samples. For participants who witnessed an unfair transaction, trait empathic concern was associated with greater helping of a victim and had no relationship to punishment. However, in those who decided to punish the transgressor, participants who reported greater empathic concern decided to punish less. In Study 2, we directly enhanced compassion using short-term online compassion meditation training to examine whether altruistic helping and punishment were increased after two weeks of training. Compared to an active reappraisal training control group, the compassion training group gave more to help the victim and did not differ in punishment of the transgressor. Together, these two studies suggest that compassion is related to greater altruistic helping of victims and is not associated with or may mitigate altruistic punishment of transgressors.
Most of the extant literature investigating the health effects of mindfulness interventions relies on wait-list control comparisons. The current article specifies and validates an active control condition, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), thus providing the foundation necessary for rigorous investigations of the relative efficacy of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and for testing mindfulness as an active ingredient. 63 participants were randomized to either MBSR (n = 31) or HEP (n = 32). Compared to HEP, MBSR led to reductions in thermal pain ratings in the mindfulness- but not the HEP-related instruction condition (η2 = .18). There were significant improvements over time for general distress (η2 = .09), anxiety (η2 = .08), hostility (η2 = .07), and medical symptoms (η2 = .14), but no effects of intervention. Practice was not related to change. HEP is an active control condition for MBSR while remaining inert to mindfulness. These claims are supported by results from a pain task. Participant-reported outcomes (PROs) replicate previous improvements to well-being in MBSR, but indicate that MBSR is no more effective than a rigorous active control in improving these indices. These results emphasize the importance of using an active control condition like HEP in studies evaluating the effectiveness of MBSR.