Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behaviors

Health Psychol. 2015 Jun;34(6):661-9. doi: 10.1037/hea0000158. Epub 2014 Sep 22.


Objective: Emerging theory and research suggest that self-compassion promotes the practice of health behaviors, and implicates self-regulation as an explanatory factor. However, previous investigations focused only on behavior intentions or health risk behaviors, and did not investigate the role of emotions. This study expands on this research using a small-scale meta-analysis approach with our own data sets to examine the associations of self-compassion with a set of health-promoting behaviors, and test the roles of high positive affect and low negative affect as potential explanatory mechanisms.

Method: Fifteen independent samples (N = 3,252) with correlations of self-compassion with the frequency of self-reported health-promoting behaviors (eating habits, exercise, sleep behaviors, and stress management) were meta-analyzed. Eight of these samples completed measures of positive and negative affect.

Results: Self-compassion was positively associated with the practice of health-promoting behaviors across all 15 samples. The meta-analysis revealed a small effect size (average r = .25; p < .001) of self-compassion and health behaviors, with low variability. Tests of the indirect effects of self-compassion on health behaviors through positive and negative affect with multiple mediator analyses revealed small effects for each. Separate meta-analyses of the indirect effects (IE) were significant for positive (average IE = .08; p < .001) and negative affect (average IE = .06; p < .001), and their combined indirect effects (average IE = .15; p < .0001).

Conclusion: Self-compassion may be an important quality to cultivate for promoting positive health behaviors, due in part to its association with adaptive emotions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Empathy*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychotherapy
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult