Research on Loving Kindness Meditation

. 2015; 6: 1693.
Published online 2015 Nov 3. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693
PMCID: PMC4630307
PMID: 26579061

The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review

Xianglong Zeng,1,* Cleo P. K. Chiu,1 Rong Wang,2 Tian P. S. Oei,3,4,5 and Freedom Y. K. Leung1
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While it has been suggested that loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is an effective practice for promoting positive emotions, the empirical evidence in the literature remains unclear. Here, we provide a systematic review of 24 empirical studies (N = 1759) on LKM with self-reported positive emotions. The effect of LKM on positive emotions was estimated with meta-analysis, and the influence of variations across LKM interventions was further explored with subgroup analysis and meta-regression. The meta-analysis showed that (1) medium effect sizes for LKM interventions on daily positive emotions in both wait-list controlled RCTs and non-RCT studies; and (2) small to large effect sizes for the on-going practice of LKM on immediate positive emotions across different comparisons. Further analysis showed that (1) interventions focused on loving-kindness had medium effect size, but interventions focused on compassion showed small effect sizes; (2) the length of interventions and the time spent on meditation did not influence the effect sizes, but the studies without didactic components in interventions had small effect sizes. A few individual studies reported that the nature of positive emotions and individual differences also influenced the results. In sum, LKM practice and interventions are effective in enhancing positive emotions, but more studies are needed to identify the active components of the interventions, to compare different psychological operations, and to explore the applicability in clinical populations.

Keywords: positive emotion, loving-kindness, compassion, Buddhism, meditation, four immeasurables


Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a special type of Buddhist meditation that aims to cultivate unconditional kind attitudes toward oneself and others. The core psychological operation is to keep generating one’s kind intentions toward certain targets, while the detailed operations vary across different Buddhist traditions. Generally, practitioners silently repeat some phrases, such as “may you be happy” or “may you be free from suffering” toward targets. In some traditions, they also visualize the mental image of the targets or light from one’s heart toward others to help the generation of intentions (). The targets change gradually with practice, following an order from easy to difficult; they generally begin with oneself, then loved ones, neutral ones, difficult ones and finally all beings, with variations across traditions. Buddhism claims that LKM cultivates four sublime attitudes called “four immeasurables”: (1) loving-kindness, which refers to unselfish friendliness; (2) compassion, which refers to a willingness to cease the suffering of the distressed one; (3) appreciative joy, which refers to feeling happiness for other’s success or fortune; and (4) equanimity, which refers to calm toward the fate of others based on wisdom. It is worth noting that different sublime attitudes are cultivated by special subtypes of LKM, which are different in their psychological operations; for example, practitioners imagine suffering people to cultivate compassion in “compassion meditation,” and imagine happy people to cultivate loving-kindness in “LKM” in a narrow sense.

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