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Is informal practice associated with outcomes in loving-kindness and compassion training? Evidence from pre-post and daily diary assessments.

We investigated whether informal meditation practice (i.e., self-reported application of meditative techniques outside a period of formal meditation) was associated with outcomes in smartphone-based loving-kindness and compassion training. Meditation-naïve participants (n = 351) with clinically elevated symptoms completed measures of psychological distress, loneliness, empathy, and prosociality at baseline and following a two-week intervention. Informal practice, psychological distress, and loneliness were also assessed daily. Steeper increases in informal practice had small associations with pre-post improvements in distress (r = -.18, p = .008) and loneliness (r = -.19, p = .009) but not empathy or prosociality. Using a currently recommended approach for establishing cross-lagged effects in longitudinal data (latent curve model with structured residuals), higher current-day informal practice was associated with decreased next-day distress with a very small effect size (βs = -.06 to -.04, p = .018) but not decreased next-day loneliness. No cross-lagged associations emerged from distress or loneliness to informal practice. Findings suggest that further investigation into a potential causal role of informal practice is warranted. Future studies experimentally manipulating informal practice are needed.

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