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Multiple studies find mindfulness increases prosocial behavior

Posted 02.15.2018 | by AMRA

While people generally regard helpfulness and friendliness to be virtues, they often fail to extend their empathy to strangers in need. Berry et al. [Journal of Experimental Psychology] conducted a series of four experiments to see whether mindfulness—as an individual’s disposition and as an induced mental state—increases prosocial behavior towards an excluded stranger by increasing empathic concern.

In the first study, 82 undergraduates (52% female, 58% Caucasian) completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Act with Awareness subscale of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Participants then watched a Cyberball computer game involving three computer-generated characters playing catch. Participants were misled into believing that the computer-generated characters represented three live participants playing the game in other rooms. During the observed game, two characters excluded the third character by passing the ball only between themselves.

After watching the game, participants were assessed for empathic concern and distress, and asked to write emails to each of the players. Empathic concern is the desire to help others, whereas empathic distress often leads to focusing on relieving one’s own distress rather than helping others. Participants then played a game of Cyberball together with the other characters. The researchers rated the helpfulness of the emails written to the excluded character, and counted how often the participant threw the ball to the excluded character.

The study found that higher mindfulness was significantly associated with higher empathic concern (but not empathic distress), more helpful emails, and a greater number of ball throws to the excluded character.

In the second study, 83 undergraduates (68% female, 44% Caucasian) completed the same personality measures and followed the same Cyberball protocol as in the first […]

February 15th, 2018|News|

MBCT and cognitive therapy equally effective for depression relapse

Posted 01.24.2018 | by AMRA

One of the biggest difficulties in treating recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) is that most people with recurrent MDD experience a relapse within two years following recovery from symptoms. Three treatments appear to have some success at limiting the two-year relapse rate to 30-40%: Antidepressant Medication Maintenance Therapy, Cognitive Therapy (CT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

MBCT and CT attempt to reduce the risk of relapse by promoting different skill sets. CT promotes challenging dysfunctional thinking and increasing physical activity level. MBCT promotes nonjudgmental monitoring of moment-by-moment experience, and decentering from thoughts or seeing thoughts as transient mental phenomena and not necessarily valid.

Farb et al. [Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology] conducted the first randomized controlled head-to-head comparison of CT and MBCT for relapse prevention in MDD.

The researchers randomly assigned 166 people with MDD (average age = 40 years, 2/3 female; average of 4 past MDD episodes) currently in remission to either a MBCT or CT group.

Assessments of diagnosis and symptoms were done through a combined structured clinical interview and a self-report questionnaire. MDD symptoms were assessed bimonthly through an initial brief questionnaire. If the initial questionnaire suggested relapse, it was followed-up with another questionnaire and a structured clinical phone interview. A research psychiatrist confirmed all relapse diagnoses. In addition, participants completed questionnaires measuring decentering and dysfunctional beliefs every three months.

CT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions that stressed goal setting, self-monitoring, maintaining thought records, and cognitive restructuring during its initial sessions, and lifestyle modification, environmental mastery, life purpose, self-acceptance, and optimizing interpersonal relationships in later sessions.

MBCT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions with an additional retreat day. It emphasized mindfulness […]

January 24th, 2018|News|

College students show less exam distress after mindfulness program

Posted 01.16.2018 | by AMRA

College life is accompanied by many stresses, but few exceed the stress of final exams week—a period of intensive “cramming,” all night study sessions, and fearful anticipation of final grades. It comes as no surprise that approximately half of all college students report a significant degree of test anxiety.

Galante et al. [Lancet Public Health] studied whether an eight-week mindfulness skills program might reduce students’ acute exam-related distress levels during final exams week.

The researchers randomly assigned 616 undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge College, UK (62% female; 66% White; 92% age 17-30 years) to either an 8-week Mindfulness Skills for Students (MSS) program, or mental health support-as-usual group. Participants were prescreened to rule out severe mental health symptoms.

The MSS program consisted of eight 75-90 minute group sessions that included mindfulness meditation, periods of reflection and inquiry, and interactive exercises. MSS participants were encouraged to engage in 8-25 minutes of home practice daily.

Mental health support-as-usual consisted of access-as-needed to university counseling services and the National Health Service. No mental health services were offered to the support-as-usual group participants unless they actively sought help from these services on their own.

All participants were asked to complete a self-report distress measure and a wellness measure at post-intervention and again during final exams week. Following the completion of outcome measures, participants were offered monetary vouchers ($4.50 at post-intervention and $7.50 during exams week) that they could either pocket or contribute to charity. If MSS participants missed a session, they were contacted to discover whether they experienced any adverse consequences from participation in the intervention.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of MSS participants attended at least half of the MSS sessions, and […]

January 16th, 2018|News|

Mindfulness in the workplace: Less hostility, more true emotions

Posted 12.26.2017 | by AMRA

When workplace conflicts boil over into outright expressions of hostility, employees may feel harmed and mistreated and workplace functioning is disrupted. Liang et al. [Journal of Applied Psychology] conducted a series of four studies to test if mindfulness plays a role in decreasing hostile and aggressive behavior in places of employment.

The first three studies examined whether mindful awareness and acceptance can weaken the link between feelings of hostility and the overt expression of those feelings. The fourth study explored the ways in which mindfulness might accomplish this.

The first three studies used employees from Amazon MTurk (average age = 36-39 years; 44%-48% male), a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace, as participants. The fourth study drew employees (average age = 37 years; 49% male) from a larger employee database.

In the first study, 101 employees visualized and described a past negative incident with their supervisor. Participants were then randomly assigned to either a mindful awareness, mindful acceptance, or mind wandering condition. In each condition, participants read flashcard statements designed to elicit one of these mental states. The cards included statements like “consciously attend to your breath for a few seconds” or “let your mind wander to whichever thought it wants.”

Afterwards, participants were presented with a voodoo doll representing their supervisor and asked how many pins they would like to stick in it. The flashcards participants read affected how many pins they chose to use (partial η2=.07). The mindful awareness group used significantly fewer (6 pins) than the mind-wandering group (15 pins). The mindful acceptance group (8 pins), however, didn’t differ significantly from the mind-wandering group.

In the second study, 342 employees completed the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale […]

December 26th, 2017|News|

Young adults show less aggression after using meditation app

Posted 12.19.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness may improve not only the way we feel inside, but also the way we behave towards others. Researchers are interested in whether mindfulness can decrease aggression either by transforming hostile feelings, or altering the way people respond to them.

Desteno et al. [Mindfulness] conducted a randomized controlled study of whether mindfulness training can reduce feelings of anger and/or overt aggression better than a control intervention.

The researchers randomly assigned 77 meditation-naive college students (age range =18-24 years) to either a mindfulness meditation training or a control intervention. Each intervention consisted of twenty-one brief (approximately 15 minutes long) practice sessions over the course of 3 weeks.

Meditation participants engaged in guided breath, body, and mind-focused meditations that included monitoring mind-wandering and adopting a non-judgmental attitude. Training sessions were delivered via the Headspace smartphone app.

Control participants logged onto a website each day to solve word and geometric puzzles, analogies, and similar problems. Attrition was equally high in both groups, and only data from 46 participants were included in the analyses.

Following training, participants were invited into the laboratory for “cognitive” testing. After completing a Stroop task measuring cognitive executive function, participants were introduced via videoconferencing to a person they thought was a fellow research participant. They were then asked to compose a two-minute speech on their life goals and deliver it to their video-conferenced peer. Afterwards, they were presented with what was said to be their peer’s written evaluation of their performance.

Their “peer” was not a fellow participant, but a previously videotaped research confederate, and the “feedback” they received evaluated their speeches as “boring” and “a complete waste.” Participants then rated their emotions and were offered an […]

December 19th, 2017|News|

Two weeks of mindfulness training changes brain waves of depression

Posted 11.28.2017 | by AMRA

Are there biological markers for depression that continue to exist even when the depressive symptoms go away? One possible candidate for such a marker is an electroencephalographic (EEG) waveform called error related negativity (ERN).

ERN is a sharp negative wave that occurs whenever people make a mistake while performing a task. The waveform begins at the start of the error and peaks shortly thereafter. ERNs occur even when people are not consciously aware of having made a mistake.

In healthy individuals, larger ERNs are associated with better executive and attentional control and enhanced self-regulation. People with depression, however, typically have smaller ERNs. When their depressive symptoms improve with treatment, their ERNs continue to be smaller than those of healthy individuals. This raises the possibility that smaller ERNs reflect an underlying biological vulnerability to depression.

Fissler et al. [Cognitive and Affective Behavioral Neuroscience] sought to discover whether brief mindfulness training could help improve ERNs in people with chronic depression.

The researchers recruited a sample of 68 patients (average age = 39 years; 61% female) with histories of chronic or recurring major depression who were currently depressed. They also recruited a comparison sample of 25 healthy controls.

Participants had their EEGs recorded while performing a sustained attention task. A series of digits were displayed individually on a computer screen and participants were told to push the keyboard space bar whenever they saw the digits “0” through “2” and “4” through “9,” but to withhold responding whenever they saw a “3.” The researchers then recorded the total number of errors made to the number “3” and the average ERN magnitude when those errors were made.

Following the initial assessment, members of […]

November 28th, 2017|News|

Youth with HIV show reduced viral load after MBSR

Posted 11.16.2017 | by AMRA

Youth living with HIV have to cope not only with the psychological stress of having a chronic disease, but also with the challenges of taking medications regularly and following through with scheduled medical appointments. Successful coping may be particularly difficult for HIV-infected adolescents and young adults who are still developing their self-regulation skills and working through developmental issues regarding identity formation.

Webb et al. [AIDS Care] conducted a randomized, controlled study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to see if it could enhance psychological wellbeing, self-regulation, and disease management in youth with HIV.

The researchers randomly assigned 72 youth with HIV (age range = 14-22 years; 53% male) to either MBSR or a health education course. The MBSR intervention adapted its vocabulary (but not its content or structure) to better suit the needs of urban youth. The health education course was structured to match MBSR in terms of the number and length of its sessions, as well as its group structure and size. The course was designed to cover topics such as nutrition, exercise and puberty.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale), perceived stress, coping styles, aggression, quality of life, and medication adherence at baseline, post-intervention, and 3-month follow-up. They also completed Stroop-like tasks to assess their ability to regulate attention in the presence of interfering emotionally positive, negative, or neutral stimuli

HIV viral loads (measures of the severity of HIV infection) and CD4 counts (measures of immune system functioning) were obtained from participants’ medical records. Participants were categorized as having either low viral loads (under 100 viral copies per mL) or higher viral loads (over 100 viral copies per mL).

Low […]

November 16th, 2017|News|

Mindful children have more brain flexibility, imaging study shows

Posted 10.27.2017 | by AMRA

Meditation involves the processes of focusing attention, recognizing when the mind has wandered off, and re-establishing focus. Neuropsychologists tell us these processes are associated with three large-scale brain networks: a Default Mode Network (DMN) associated with mind-wandering, a Salience and Emotion Network (SEN) associated with present-centered awareness, and a Central Executive Network (CEN) that helps shift, restore, and maintain focus. When two or more networks change activity in a coordinated manner, they are said to be functionally connected.

Positive functional connectivity occurs when two networks increase or decrease activity in tandem. Negative functional connectivity occurs when increased activity in one network is matched by decreased activity in the other. The degree of functional connectivity between networks is usually averaged over time to yield a single measure. The problem with averaged measures is that they give the illusion that the functional connectivity between networks is static, when in fact, it is ever-changing and dynamic.

Marusak et al. [Behavioral Brain Research] studied both the average and the dynamic functional connectivity between these brain networks in children, as well as how these networks are related to childrens’ self-reported levels of mindfulness and mental health symptoms.

The researchers recruited an economically and racially diverse cohort of 42 children and adolescents (55% female, average age =10 years, age range = 6-17 years). Many of the children were at economic disadvantage and/or at risk for exposure to violence, abuse, and intensive medical treatment.

The participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure), anxiety and depression. The majority of participants (65%) exceeded the thresholds on these measures for pathological levels of anxiety and/or depression.

All participants underwent functional magnetic […]

October 27th, 2017|News|

MBRP practice loosens grip of craving on substance use

Posted 10.19.2017 | by AMRA

Roughly half of all substance use program graduates relapse within six months. This has led researchers to seek better ways of reducing the frequency and severity of relapses after treatment. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is a program offered after residential or intensive outpatient treatment to prevent relapse.

MBRP teaches mindfulness skills to help substance users cope more effectively with their cravings. Rather than treating cravings as a danger to be avoided, MBRP approaches cravings as transient mental states that can be investigated and tolerated without triggering relapse.

Using data from a previously published MBRP trial, Enkema & Bowen [Drug and Alcohol Dependence] investigated whether MBRP actually weakened the association between craving and substance use. They reasoned that if it did, the link between craving and subsequent use would be weakest for those who practiced mindfulness meditation the most.

The 57 study participants (77% male, 63% Caucasian, average age = 38 years) had been randomly assigned to the MBRP arm of a parent study comparing MBRP to other aftercare programs. The participants had completed either an inpatient or intensive outpatient substance use program before starting MBRP.

In the previously published parent study, MBRP participants showed a 54% reduced risk of drug use and a 59% decreased risk of heavy drinking compared with the participants in comparison treatments.

The present study made use of MBRP participants’ reports of the quantity and frequency of their substance use (if any) during the six-month period following their completion of the program. The participants also indicated the intensity of their cravings and the extent of their formal (e.g. seated meditation) and informal (e.g., using mindfulness to “urge surf” cravings) mindfulness practice within the […]

October 19th, 2017|News|

Heart health – Is meditation more than deep breathing?

Posted 09.26.2017 | by AMRA

Many forms of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, make use of the breath as a point of attentional focus. Research has shown that meditation on the breath reduces respiration rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. Are these physiological changes the result of the cognitive and affective aspects of maintaining a meditative focus, or are they simply the consequences of breathing more slowly?

Bernardi et al. [Psychophysiology] investigated the long- and short-term respiratory and cardiovascular effects of meditation in experienced meditators and controls. In so doing, the researchers hoped to disentangle the physiological effects of slowed breathing from those of a maintained meditative focus.

The researchers recruited 41 participants (22% male, average age = 34 years) with prior meditation experience and 39 meditation-naive (54% male, average age = 25 years) controls. All of the meditators were beginning-to-intermediate yoga practitioners, although some had additional experience with vipassana, mindfulness, transcendental, or mantra meditation.

The researchers instructed participants to lie down quietly on their backs with eyes closed while their heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and arterial, tissue, and brain oxygen levels were monitored under a series of different conditions. The conditions were: 1) baseline measures of normal respiration, 2) two different periods of “paced breathing” during which participants synchronized their breathing to the beats of a metronome to achieve rates of 15 and 6 breaths per minute, 3) two different periods of metronome-paced breathing while silently reciting a mantra, known as “mantra meditation” (also at 15 and 6 breaths per minute), and 4) a five-minute body scan meditation.

The meditators differed from the controls on a variety of measures across all conditions. They tended to […]

September 26th, 2017|News|