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Activate empathy when ruminating

Transforming or Restraining Rumination: The Impact of Compassionate Reappraisal Versus Emotion Suppression on Empathy, Forgiveness, and Affective Psychophysiology

Charlotte V. O. Witvliet, Alicia J. Hofelich, Nova G. Hinman, Ross W. Knoll

The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2015

Research details

Type of paper: Primary Empirical Study

Sample size: 64

Open Access: No


We tested the effects of practicing compassionate reappraisal vs. emotional suppression as direct coping responses to victims’ ruminations about a past interpersonal offense. Participants (32 females, 32 males) were randomly assigned to learn one coping strategy which immediately followed three of six offense rumination trials (counterbalanced). For both strategy types, coping (vs. offense ruminating) reduced ratings of negative emotion, decreased the use of negative emotion language, and reduced tension at the brow muscle (_corrugator EMG_). Only compassionate reappraisal coping (vs. offense rumination) immediately prompted greater empathy and emotional forgiveness toward the offender. Empathy ratings for the first coping trial mediated the relationship between strategy type and empathy ratings for the final rumination trial. Compassionate reappraisal strategy participants increased their empathy toward the offender _while ruminating_ at the end of the study. Compassionate reappraisal participants (vs. emotional suppression) described coping (vs. rumination) with more positive language, and also had calmer cardiac pre-ejection period responses.