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For online apps, mindfulness outperforms cognitive training

Posted 05.24.2017 | by AMRA

When people aren’t focused on what they’re currently doing, but are instead thinking about the past, or future, or lost in fantasy, they’re said to be “mind wandering.” Psychologists estimate that people spend almost half their waking hours mind wandering, and that they are less happy when doing so. Can on-line programs intending to support attentional capacities help people decrease mind wandering?

In a randomized, controlled study, Bennike et al. [Journal of Cognitive Enhancement] compared the ability of an online mindfulness training program and an online cognitive training program to improve a behavioral measure of sustained attention.

The researchers randomly assigned 137 healthy adult volunteers (average age = 42 years) to either a 4-week mindfulness training using the Headspace application, or a 4-week cognitive training using the Lumosity application. Headspace participants used the online application to practice daily guided meditations that increased in duration over time, starting at 10 minutes daily and ending at 20 minutes daily. Luminosity participants played online games designed to improve memory, attention, cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and problem solving. Lumosity users were instructed to engage in cognitive training for the same durations that Headspace users meditated.

Twenty-one participants in each group were excluded from final data analysis either because they failed to show up for post-testing, or because they were discovered to have had prior mindfulness training.

All participants engaged in a Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) before and after training. Participants were shown a series of digits on a computer screen, and told to quickly press the space bar whenever they saw a number, except for the number 3. The number 3 was presented only 10% of the time, […]

May 24th, 2017|News|

Body scan meditation during chemotherapy changes stress

Posted 05.18.2017 | by AMRA

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can be highly stressful, and prolonged stress often alters the body’s normal stress response. For example, the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) secreted by the adrenal gland typically varies over the course of the day, peaking upon morning awakening and gradually diminishing throughout the day. Prolonged stress blunts this biological response so that the difference between morning and afternoon cortisol levels is much smaller.

Cancer survivors often show this kind of blunted cortisol response—reduced daily variation and reduced reactivity to stress. This blunting of stress reactivity is associated with greater disease progression and shorter survival times for many types of cancers. It’s possible that somehow preventing this blunting may improve patient outcomes. Prior research shows that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can limit cortisol blunting across the day in breast and prostate cancer patients.

Black et al. [Cancer] conducted a randomized, controlled test of whether a brief mindfulness activity could reduce the blunting of acute cortisol reactivity in colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy infusion.

The researchers randomly assigned 57 adults with colorectal cancer (average age = 54 years; 51% Male; 66% non-Hispanic, 33% Hispanic/Latino) who were undergoing chemotherapy infusion to one of three conditions: 1) a standard chemotherapy control group, 2) a chemotherapy + cancer education attention control group, and 3) a mindfulness meditation + cancer education group.

Saliva samples (to assess cortisol levels) were drawn four times during the hour-long chemotherapy infusion: at the start of infusion and at three 20-minute intervals thereafter. The patients also completed self-report measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue during the past week, as well as general levels of mindfulness (using a short form […]

May 18th, 2017|News|

Brain regions connect after mindfulness training

Posted 04.25.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve performance on behavioral measures of executive control including attention, working memory, emotional and cognitive control, and decision making. Research also suggests that a brain region known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) plays an important role in executive control, serving as the hub of an executive control brain network. The dlPFC has rich anatomical connections to other brain regions that are also thought to be involved in executive control. Does mindfulness training assist executive control by improving the way the dlPFC interrelates with these other brain regions?

One way to test this is by assessing resting state functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other brain regions. Resting state functional connectivity is a measure of how much different brain regions work in tandem. For example, when one region increases activity, other brain regions act in sync with it.

Taren et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested whether mindfulness training increases the functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other executive control brain regions by comparing functional connectivity after either mindfulness training or relaxation training in a randomized, controlled study.

The researchers randomly assigned 35 unemployed, job-seeking adults (average age = 40; 57% male; 66% Caucasian) who reported high levels of stress to either an intensive 3-day residential mindfulness training, or an intensive 3-day residential relaxation training. Mindfulness training was a condensed version of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that included body scanning, sitting, walking, and eating meditations, and mindful yoga. Relaxation training included resting while walking and stretching and didactic presentations, but did not include progressive muscle relaxation.

All participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) both at baseline and two weeks after training. The […]

April 25th, 2017|News|

Accessing unconscious motives with the body scan

Posted 04.14.2017 | by AMRA

People tend to be happiest when their career and relationship goals align with their motivations. The problem is that people often have relatively little awareness of their unconscious motives. We can infer the existence of unconscious motives based on how a person behaves, but people are rarely able to recognize or describe these motives.

Unconcious motives are formed early in life and tend to be poorly integrated with higher mental processes. Prior research suggests, however, that people who are highly aware of their internal body sensations are also more likely to be aware of their unconscious motives. Could then a mindfulness exercise that increases body awareness also increase awareness of unconscious motives?

Strick & Papies [Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin] tested this possibility by first assessing people’s unconscious motives, and then having them select and rate a set of goals after engaging in either a mindfulness practice called the body scan or a control activity.

Sixty college students (mean age = 22; 75% female) attended a series of three experimental sessions. In the first session, participants made up stories in response to pictures depicting social situations. The content of their stories was then rated by the researchers for the presence of implicit wishes for affiliation (the wish to pursue and maintain relationships) and power (the wish to control and influence others). The participants also rated their conscious desires for affiliation and power using a self-report measure.

In the second session, participants were randomly assigned to either a body scan or control activity. Body scan participants listened to a brief (12-14 minutes) digitally recorded guided body scan in which they were instructed to mindfully attend to body […]

April 14th, 2017|News|

MBSR participants with generalized anxiety disorder miss less work

Posted 03.21.2017 | by AMRA

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) suffer from excessive and uncontrollable worry concerning a broad array of everyday matters (work, money, health, relationships, etc.) along with a range of physical symptoms (headache, fatigue, muscle tension, etc.) associated with stress. As a result, people with GAD often miss days at work and tend to use medical and mental health services at a higher rate than the average person.

GAD is often treated with medication and psychotherapy, and in recent years, mindfulness-based interventions have been added as an additional treatment alongside more traditional approaches.

In a secondary analysis of a previously published randomized, controlled clinical trial, Hoge et al. [Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine] investigated whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduced the number of GAD sufferers’ missed days at work and the number of their visits to primary care and mental health care professionals to a greater degree than a stress management education (SME) control.

The 57 individuals with GAD (mean age = 39; 56% female; 83% Caucasian) whose data were analyzed in this study were a subset of a larger cohort of individuals with GAD who were randomly assigned to either a standard 8-week MBSR program or an 8-week SME program. The SME program covered topics relevant to stress including time management, nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

The subgroup of patients whose data was included in this analysis completed the World Health Organization Health Performance and Work Questionnaire (HPQ) at baseline, after intervention, and at 24-week follow-up. The HPQ is a self-report measure of illness-related absences from work and visits to primary care and mental health professionals.

At immediate post-intervention, the MBSR group had significantly decreased the number of partial […]

March 21st, 2017|News|

Mindfulness practice as good as prescribed pain meds for migraine

Posted 03.14.2017 | by AMRA

Migraines are disabling headaches lasting from several hours to several days that are characterized by severe, pulsating pain usually localized to one side of the head. Migraine sufferers may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light, sound or smell. Their headaches may also be preceded by visual disturbances (e.g., blind spots and zigzag patterns) that signal their impending onset.

Migraines are considered “chronic” when they occur more than 15 days a month over a period of three months. Chronic migraines are often complicated by medication overuse, which tends to make migraines worse and harder to manage. The treatment of chronic migraine complicated by medication overuse is complex, and physicians are interested in behavioral approaches that can either supplement or be used instead of medications.

Grazzi et al. [Journal of Headache and Pain] conducted a non-randomized exploratory clinical trial of a mindfulness-based intervention compared to prescribed medications intended to prevent headache onset for patients with combined chronic migraine and medication overuse.

Patients with chronic migraine and medication overuse who were being treated at a neurology clinic were withdrawn from their medication in a structured day treatment program. At the end of the program, they were invited to participate in a clinical trial of either mindfulness training (MT) or prophylactic medication (MED).

A total of 44 patients (average age = 45) were enrolled in the study, and assignment to treatment was self-selected. The MT intervention, based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, involved six weekly 45-minute small group sessions. MT participants practiced maintaining a non-judgmental, present-moment focus during sitting meditation.

Patients in the MED condition were prescribed medications to take before their headaches began including valproate, botulinum toxin, pizotifen, amitriptyline, and […]

March 14th, 2017|News|

2 million Americans practice mindfulness, national survey shows

Posted 02.23.2017 | by AMRA

What percentage of Americans practice mindfulness meditation, and how do they differ from those who do not? Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Statistics (NCS) conducts an annual National Health Interview Survey using U.S. Census Bureau-trained interviewers. They visit some 35,000-40,000 households, obtaining self-report health data from a representative sample of 75,000-100,000 Americans, and providing the most complete snapshot of the nation’s health in any given year.

Additionally, every five years, the NCS and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health conjointly collect supplementary data on the use of alternative and complementary medicine. Morone et al. [Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine] analyzed data from the 2012 surveys to assess the prevalence of mindfulness meditation practice, who uses it, and why.

The 2012 NHIS survey collected information from 108,131 adults. The researchers examined the data from respondents who reported using “mindfulness meditation including Vipassana, Zen Buddhist meditation, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy” during the previous 12 months. It also compared them to respondents who reported they did not practice mindfulness meditation on various demographic variables, health behaviors, acute and chronic illnesses, and physical and mental health issues.

On the basis of this data, the researchers estimated that well over two million American adults engaged in mindfulness meditation in 2012. Women made up 61% of the mindfulness meditators. As a group, mindfulness meditators were an average of seven years older than non-meditators, and while more likely to be white and college educated, did not differ in terms of socio-economic status. Mindfulness meditation practice was more prevalent in Western states, and less prevalent in the South.

Mindfulness meditators were […]

February 23rd, 2017|News|

MBSR for Social Anxiety Disorder promotes positive self-view

Posted 02.16.2017 | by AMRA

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a psychiatric condition affecting approximately 7% of Americans. Symptoms include fear, embarrassment, and humiliation in social situations, along with avoidance of social interactions. People with SAD have negative beliefs about their social acceptability and self-worth, creating fear that others will discover their self-perceived negative qualities. Altering these negative self-beliefs may be an effective way to reduce the severity of SAD symptoms.

Thurston et al. [Journal of Anxiety Disorders] conducted a randomized, controlled study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy (CBGT) on positive and negative self-evaluations and their relationship to social anxiety symptoms in patients with SAD.

The researchers randomly assigned 108 volunteers (56% female; mean age = 33 years; 43.5% Caucasian, 39% Asian, 9.3% Hispanic, 8.3% other) with SAD to a 12-week MBSR program, CBGT program, or wait-list control. The volunteers completed a Self-Referential Encoding Task (SRET) and a self-report scale of social anxiety at baseline and after the assigned intervention. The SRET was also completed by a separate group of 40 healthy controls that served as a baseline comparison group. The SRET measures participants’ positive and negative self-views by having them select the words that best describe themselves from pairs of computer-presented negative and positive adjectives.

The standard curriculum-based MBSR intervention omitted the usual “retreat day” in the sixth week of the program, but extended the program by adding four additional weekly group sessions so that it better matched the 12-week CBGT program. The CBGT program taught cognitive restructuring and relapse prevention and offered graded exposure to feared social situations, both in-program and the “real world.” Wait-listed controls did not participate […]

February 16th, 2017|News|

Parental mindfulness and stress response in mother-infant pairs

Posted 01.25.2017 | by AMRA

Dispositional mindfulness is the generalized tendency to be mindful in daily life, but mindfulness levels can also be situational. Parenting-specific mindfulness, for example, is mindfulness occurring within the context of parenting. It’s the tendency to be nonjudgmental, accepting and emotionally aware of and compassionate toward oneself and one’s child, and to be able to listen to one’s child with full attention. Parenting-specific mindfulness may benefit the parent-child relationship by helping parents and children cope with stress within the family relationship.

Laurent et al. [Developmental Psychology] tested this hypothesis by measuring the impact of both maternal dispositional mindfulness and parenting-specific mindfulness on maternal and infant stress hormone (cortisol) levels during and after exposure to a stressor.

The researchers recruited 73 low-income mother-infant pairs (77% Caucasian; average maternal age = 27; 51% married; median income=$10,000-$19,000) who were part of a larger longitudinal study. At 3 months postpartum, the mothers completed self-report measures of dispositional mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), parenting-specific mindfulness (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting-Infant Version) and the degree of life stress during the prior three months.

At 6 months postpartum, the mother-infant pairs participated in a “still face” task in which the mother maintained an unwavering neutral facial expression while face-to-face with her infant for two full minutes. The mother’s failure to react to the infant’s attention-getting bids during this task is stressful for the infant, who striving to regain the mother’s attention and failing to do so, may start to whine or cry in response to not receiving attention.

Samples of maternal and infant saliva were obtained prior to, immediately after, and 15 and 45 minutes after the still face task. The saliva was assayed […]

January 25th, 2017|News|

Patients with schizophrenia benefit from mindfulness, concerns debunked

Posted 01.19.2017 | by AMRA

Schizophrenia is a severe, prolonged psychiatric illness affecting over 3,000,000 Americans with symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, apathy, and social withdrawal. The standard treatment for schizophrenia involves medication, education, and social support. Despite treatment, most patients suffer from residual symptoms that can negatively impact vocational and social functioning and quality of life.

Using a randomized, controlled, multisite design, Wang et al. [Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment] compared the efficacy of a novel six-month mindfulness-based psycho-educational program in reducing schizophrenic symptoms and disability to that of standard psychiatric care with and without conventional psycho-education.

The researchers recruited 138 patients with schizophrenic-spectrum disorders (52% male, average age = 24) from two Hong Kong outpatient clinics and randomly assigned them to one of three conditions: 1) a Mindfulness-Based Psycho-educational Group (MBPG), 2) a Conventional Psycho-educational Group (CPG) or 3) treatment-as-usual (TAU) alone. MBPG and CPG were both offered as supplements to treatment-as-usual, and were delivered in twelve two-hour bimonthly sessions over the course of six months.

MBPG focused on increasing awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings relating to illness, controlling negative thoughts and perceptions, and enhancing illness management, problem-solving and relapse prevention. It emphasized acceptance and de-centering strategies and included mindfulness home practice. CPG emphasized education on schizophrenia, survival and life skills, relapse prevention, and resilience promotion. TAU included medication, psychiatric consultation, brief education about illness and treatment, nurse and social work services, and referrals for medical treatment and psychological counseling as indicated.

Outcome measures were obtained at baseline, and at 1 week and 6 months after intervention completion. Measures included psychosocial functioning, re-hospitalization, psychiatric symptoms, insight into illness/treatment, recovery, and mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire of FFMQ).

The MBPG […]

January 19th, 2017|News|