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Objectives: In order to address an important gap in understanding mechanisms of depressive relapse, we complemented self-report with psychophysiological measures to a specifically developed brief self-compassion exercise, to examine if mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) reduces dispositional negative self-bias in individuals with recurrent depression. Methods: Individuals’ responses (self-report, heart rate, heart rate variability and skin conductance) during a previously validated brief self-compassion exercise were assessed in a repeated-measures experimental design at two timepoints 2.5–3 months apart in a convenience sample of remitted depressed attendees of an outpatient clinic for mood disorders. The first group received eight sessions of MBCT (n = 25) in between the two measurements whereas the second group was an untreated control group (n = 25). Results: When the MBCT group engaged in the self-compassion exercise after MBCT, they showed reduced physiological arousal and increased heart rate variability whereas no changes were observed in the untreated control group. Whereas self-reported state self-compassion after the exercise increased in both groups at both timepoints, only in the MBCT group were the overall levels of state and dispositional self-compassion increased significantly. Conclusion: MBCT appears to effectively reduce negative self-bias and facilitates psychophysiological benefits associated with a more positive self-view. Physiological responses to our self-compassion exercise could be useful markers of treatment-related changes and further mechanism research on depressive relapse prevention.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





928 - 941