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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|

Daily meditation practice key to positive emotions

Posted 09.19.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are founded on the assumption that meditative practice increases mindfulness and that mindfulness, in turn, enhances psychological wellbeing. The evidence supporting this assumption is somewhat mixed. While some studies find that the extent and quality of a meditation practice is positively associated with improvement in mindfulness and wellbeing, others have not.

The methodology by which some studies measure a meditation practice may be one reason for these diverse findings. Some studies do not measure practice on a daily basis, but instead ask participants to estimate the quantity and quality of their practice over a period of weeks or months, increasing the likelihood of measurement error.

Lacaille et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychology] investigated the relationship between meditative practice, mindfulness, and wellbeing by having MBI (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR) participants complete daily diaries that rated these three variables.

The researchers studied the daily diaries of 117 MBSR participants (80% female, 86% Caucasian, 64% between 30-50 years of age) collected over a 49-day period. The MBSR program differed from the standard MBSR protocol by shortening at-home and in-class mindfulness meditation practice periods from 45-60 minutes to 20-30 minutes.

Participants were sent daily text messages reminding them to complete online diaries. If participants failed to complete a diary entry that night, they were text messaged again the following morning. If they failed to respond to the second message within 8 hours, they could no longer make an entry for that day.

In their diaries, participants indicated whether or not they had practiced, how long they had practiced, and the degree to which they had adhered to the practice instructions. They also responded to questions designed to […]

September 19th, 2017|News|

Elderly taking MBSR improve verbal recall and mental health

Posted 08.24.2017 | by AMRA

Elderly anxiety and depression sufferers often report subjective problems with memory and cognition. They also perform more poorly on objective measures of short-term memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to ignore irrelevant cues while focusing on a task. Stress can play an important role in worsening anxiety and depression and also in degrading cognitive function.

There is evidence that cortisol, a hormone secreted during stress, can have a harmful effect on brain cells in the hippocampus, which may in turn negatively affect memory and cognition. Reducing stress may therefore yield a double benefit: reducing anxiety and depression, and improving memory and cognition.

Wetherell et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychiatry] explored whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could improve clinical symptoms and cognitive functioning better than a control group in elderly people suffering from anxiety and/or depression who also experience subjective cognitive difficulties.

The researchers randomly assigned 103 elderly patients (average age = 72 years; 75% Female; 83% Caucasian) with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressive disorders and with subjective cognitive complaints to either an 8-week group MBSR intervention or an 8-week Health Education control intervention. The Health Education groups met for the same frequency and duration as the MBSR groups, but focused on understanding and managing anxiety and depression, eating well, managing medications, and communicating with one’s heath care providers.

Patients were assessed at baseline, at the end of the intervention, and at 3-and-6-month follow-ups. Outcomes were assessed on measures of psychiatric symptoms, verbal memory, verbal fluency, the ability to ignore distracting cues and stay focused on a task, mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), and average peak salivary cortisol.

Despite randomization, the health […]

August 24th, 2017|News|