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Media multi-tasking impairs attention, breath meditation helps

Posted 05.26.2016 | by AMRA

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Personal computing devices have introduced us to the phenomenon of “media multitasking,” in which we constantly switch attention between e-mailing, texting, web-browsing, and listening to music, all while ostensibly working. Research has shown that people who engage in large amounts of media multitasking perform significantly more poorly on measures of attentional ability than those who engage in it less.

Gorman et al. [Scientific Reports] explored whether a brief breath-counting meditation might temporarily ameliorate the attentional deficits associated with media multitasking.

The researchers conducted an online survey of media multitasking in 1,683 college undergraduates. They then selected a research sample of 22 heavy media multitaskers who scored at least a standard deviation above the mean, and a sample of 20 light media multitaskers who scored at least a standard deviation below the mean in frequency of media multitasking.

The students participated in two separate assessment sessions scheduled less than 48 hours apart. They completed the same assessment battery measuring attentional control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility in each of the sessions. The attentional control measures included computer-administered tasks requiring the ability to ignore distractions, detect sameness and difference in the orientation of geometrical shapes, resist impulsive responding, and attend to visual cues requiring different responses. The working memory task involved recording strings of numbers in the reverse order in which they were presented. The cognitive flexibility measure required quickly naming as many possible alternative uses of common everyday objects as one could.

The conditions under which the assessment batteries were administered differed in each of the sessions. In one of the sessions, the assessment battery was broken into tasks that were interspersed with three ten-minute breath-counting meditations. […]

May 26th, 2016|News|

Older adult cognitive decline improves after mindfulness program

Posted 05.19.2016 | by AMRA

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Older adults who complain of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) often appear normal in day-to-day functioning and on clinical assessment, but 60% of them eventually develop either mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes older adults with SCD a prime target for interventions aimed at preventing or slowing cognitive decline.

Smart et al. [Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease] conducted a randomized controlled pilot study to test the effects of mindfulness training versus a psycho-educational control on measures of attention, brain structure and function, and self-reported cognitive complaints, mood, and mindfulness in adults with SCD.

A sample of 23 healthy older adults and 15 older adults with SCD (predominantly Caucasian men and women, average age = 70) were randomly assigned to either an 8-week mindfulness training based on MBSR that was tailored for older adults, or a 5-week program that provided education on memory and aging, situational factors that affect memory, and strategies to compensate for memory difficulties. Participants completed self-report measures of memory complaints, depression, and mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ).

They also completed an attentional capacity task that required them to be vigilant and respond or withhold responding to letters presented on a computer screen. An electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded the magnitude of their brain’s P3 evoked response potentials (ERPs) while performing this task. Higher P3 ERPs reflect increased attentional capacity and are known to decrease in amplitude with SCD. All these measures were obtained both before and after intervention. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was also included to detect changes in total brain volume from pre- to post- intervention.

Adults with SCD reported a greater number of subjective memory complaints and had a […]

May 19th, 2016|News|

Online mindfulness program boosts employee wellness, not productivity

Posted 04.25.2016 | by AMRA

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Jobs can be a major source of stress. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but employers may be reluctant to offer them due to time and cost concerns. Web-based MBIs may help to address such concerns, but research suggests participant engagement in online programs tends to be low. Allexandre, et al. [Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine] randomly assigned employees to a web-based MBI with and without group and clinical expert support in an effort to discover how to best improve web-based MBI engagement and outcomes for workers.

The researchers recruited 161 predominantly Caucasian (77%), female (83%) (average age = 40) debt collectors, customer service representatives, and fraud representatives from a pool of 900 employees working at a corporate call center in Ohio. These employees reported greater levels of stress and exhaustion than average American workers.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: 1) a web-based MBI, 2) a web-based MBI with group support, 3) a web-based MBI with both group and clinician support, and 4) a wait-list control. All three intervention conditions ran for 8 weeks and participants had access to both weekly online and weekly CD/MP3-delivered mindfulness lectures and guided meditations including a body scan, sitting, and lovingkindness meditation.

Group support consisted of small-to-medium sized practice-and-discussion groups which met weekly for one hour. All groups were employee-led, but the groups with clinician support met on three occasions with a licensed social worker or counselor who did not serve as a “mindfulness teacher” but discussed topics such as letting go, acceptance, non-judging, and compassion from a cognitive-behavioral perspective.

Participants were assessed on self-report measures of emotional wellbeing, vitality, stress, burnout, exhaustion, […]

April 25th, 2016|News|

Mindful attention helps regulate amount of food consumed

Posted 04.15.2016 | by AMRA

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Can being mindfully aware heighten the pleasure of eating? Arch et al. [Behavior Research and Therapy] addressed this question in a series of studies while also exploring whether mindfulness promotes more healthful food choices.

In the first study, 81 male and female undergraduates were randomly assigned to either a mindful eating or a distracted eating condition. Participants in the mindful eating condition were instructed to eat a series of five chocolate chips while focusing on their sensory experience. Participants in the distraction condition ate their chocolate chips while searching for hidden words in a find-a-word puzzle. Mindful participants rated their chocolate chips as significantly more enjoyable (Cohen’s d = 0.51) and had a marginally significantly greater desire to eat another chocolate chip (d = 0.38) than distracted eaters.

In the second experiment with 136 male and female undergraduates, the researchers repeated the first study using raisins instead of chocolate chips. Mindful eaters showed a marginally significant tendency to enjoy the raisins more (d = 0.27) and a significantly higher desire to eat another raisin (d = 0.39) than distracted eaters.

The researchers wanted to know if people who ate mindfully ended up consuming more calories because they enjoyed eating more, or fewer calories because their improved attention led to greater behavioral control. In the third study, 102 male and female undergraduates again ate raisins, but were randomly assigned to either a mindful eating group that was instructed to focus on their sensory experience, a distracted eating group that was told to focus on find-a-word puzzles while eating, or a “no special instructions” control. The mindful eaters again rated the raisins as significantly more enjoyable and […]

April 15th, 2016|News|

Brief guided mindfulness meditation aids heart health

Posted 03.23.2016 | by AMRA

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Heart disease is the largest cause of death among men and women in the United States. Lifestyle changes in smoking, diet, and exercise can help lower heart disease risk. Further, mindfulness has proposed stress-reducing effects and thus may have its own role to play in heart health.

In two separate studies, May et al. [Stress] examined the association between trait mindfulness and markers of cardiovascular health and state mindfulness and fluctuations in heart rhythm and blood pressure, which are modulated by the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” stress response.

The studies employed two samples of predominantly female, Caucasian undergraduate students. All participants were assessed for self-reported trait mindfulness using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. In the first study, 185 participants had their cardiovascular functioning assessed by a computer-assisted method of estimating central blood pressure from peripheral arterial activity. The researchers used an estimate of central blood pressure because it is a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than the usual peripheral blood pressure measures obtained using a blood pressure cuff. This method also provided estimates of how hard the heart was working, how much oxygen it consumed, and how much blood it received through the cardiac arteries.

The first study found that while trait mindfulness wasn’t associated with blood pressure and heart rate, it was significantly associated with improved hemodynamic functioning in terms of decreased cardiac oxygen consumption and left ventricular workload. Simply put, the heart didn’t have to work as hard for those with higher levels of trait mindfulness.

In the second study, 124 participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness or […]

March 23rd, 2016|News|

Adding mindfulness to diet-exercise program helps people eat for the right reasons

Posted 03.18.2016 | by AMRA

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Adults who lose weight in diet-and-exercise lifestyle change programs usually regain weight after the program. This is often blamed on the ready availability of good tasting high calorie food along with stress and individual tendencies toward reward-driven eating. Reward-driven eating is eating that meets emotional rather than nutritional needs; it’s often accompanied by food cravings and preoccupations, poor control of eating despite motivation to lose weight, and insensitivity to sensations of fullness.

Mason et al. [Appetite] investigated the degree to which reward-driven eating and stress impacted weight loss in 158 obese participants (82% female, 59% White, average age = 47, average BMI = 35) who were randomly assigned to one of two diet and exercise interventions — one of which included mindfulness training and the other of which included progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skill training.

Both interventions met in groups for 17 sessions spaced over the course of 6 months. Both interventions used the same diet-and-exercise regimen: participants reduced their daily intake by 500 calories, engaged in structured aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and increased their daily general activity.

The mindfulness intervention taught sitting, walking, and lovingkindness meditation and mindful yoga, and promoted awareness of hunger, fullness, taste, food cravings, and eating triggers. The comparison intervention taught progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills as well as provided additional didactic instruction on nutrition and exercise.

Participants were weighed and assessed on self-reported reward-driven eating and perceived stress at baseline and 6, 12, and 18 months after baseline. The mindfulness group lost approximately 4.4 pounds more than the comparison group, but that difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

The mindfulness group experienced a significantly greater decrease in reward-driven eating than the […]

March 18th, 2016|News|

Meditation aids attention of older adults, brain regions identified

Posted 02.24.2016 | by AMRA

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As we mature into old age, our ability to remain focused and quickly choose the correct response from a set of competing responses tends to diminish. Can mindfulness training help us retain our attention, executive control and emotional regulation as we age? Malinowski, et al [Mindfulness] randomly assigned mature adults to either mindfulness training or an active comparison group, and assessed the changes in their ability to perform a task that demanded focused attention, executive control, and emotional regulation while their brain activity was measured.

The researchers assigned a predominantly female cohort of 56 British older adults (average age = 64) to either mindfulness training or a “brain training” comparison condition. Mindfulness training entailed four 90-minute group-training sessions in breath-focused concentration meditation with instructions for maintaining a non-judgmental, non-elaborative attitude. Mindfulness trainees practiced meditation at home at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week, over 8 weeks.

The comparison condition met as a group for an equivalent amount of time. Both groups entailed psychoeducation, group discussion, and skills practice, but the “brain training” group practiced mental arithmetic instead of meditation, both in the groups and at home.

All participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and a Stroop task, before and after training. The Stroop task required participants to count the number of words they saw that were presented on a computer screen. Sometimes the words’ meanings interfered with their counting (e.g., when the word “two” appeared three times) or had emotional connotations that could slow their processing speed. Participants needed to ignore the meanings and stay focused on the task.

Electroencephalography (EEG) concurrently measured the participants’ evoked response potentials (ERPs), which are […]

February 24th, 2016|News|

Higher mindfulness helps couples recover from stress during conflict

Posted 02.15.2016 | by AMRA

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All romantic relationships have conflicts, and resolving them requires couples to remain calm and open as they explore their differences. This is easier said than done when couples are stressed and not always on their best behavior. Can mindfulness protect us from the stress resulting from negative behaviors during disagreements? Laurent, et al. [Hormones and Behavior] investigated the relationship between state mindfulness, the stress hormone cortisol, and negative conflict behavior in couples who were discussing their differences.

The researchers recruited 88 heterosexual couples (predominantly Caucasian, average age = 21) who were in a relationship for at least 2 months, and had them engage in a 1hour 45 minute long discussion of an unresolved relationship conflict. The researchers wanted a sample of the couples’ behaviors so that the hormonal and attitudinal correlates of those behaviors could be studied. The discussions were taped and coded for control, coerciveness, anger, negativity/conflict, verbal aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

After the discussion, partners completed the Toronto Mindfulness Scale, a measure of state mindfulness comprised of Curiosity (an attitude of openness towards experience) and Decentering (dis-identifying with experience). The researchers also drew five salivary cortisol samples at fixed time intervals before and after the relationship conflict discussions. Cortisol data was analyzed in terms of overall reactivity (a measure of stress intensity) and slope of recovery (a measure of how long it takes to return to normal after stress).

When women were confronted with partner attempts at control, coercion, and negativity/conflict, their cortisol levels took significantly longer to return to normal if they reported low levels of Curiosity. The less they adopted a stance of friendly curiosity towards their experience, the longer their […]

February 15th, 2016|News|

Adding mindfulness to meds helps Alzheimer’s patients

Posted 01.22.2016 | by AMRA

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Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative illness characterized by short-term memory loss, disorientation, and impairments in socialization, self-care and behavioral regulation. It is primarily a disease of old age and affects over 5,000,000 Americans. Medications are often prescribed to manage its symptoms, but no medication has been shown to halt or delay the progression of the disease.

Given the enormous personal, social, and economic consequences of this illness, researchers are actively seeking novel ways to slow and forestall its devastating effects.

In a randomized clinical trial, Quintana-Hernández et al. [Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease] compared the effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Alzheimer’s Stimulation (MBAS) program in maintaining cognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s patients to that of two current non-pharmacological interventions for Alzheimer’s disease; namely, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) and Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST).

The researchers randomly assigned 168 Spanish-speaking men and women with Alzheimer’s Disease who were Canary Islands residents to one of four treatment groups: 1) Medication Alone, 2) MBAS+Medication, 3) PMR+Medication, or 4) CST+Medication. The medication was donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor that has a small beneficial effect on cognition in Alzheimer’s patients but does not slow or halt the progression of the disease.

All of the non-pharmacological treatments were delivered three times weekly in 90-minute group sessions that continued over a two-year period.

MBAS was based on MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Elder Care, Kirtan Kriya technique, chair yoga, and multi-sensory stimulation. The MBAS patients’ caretakers also assisted the patients in brief moments of mindfulness during home practice.

The CST group employed visual imagery, errorless learning, spaced retrieval, encoding specificity, and external memory aids. The PMR group employed a standard 16 muscle group tensing and releasing sequence. Patient cognition was longitudinally assessed […]

January 22nd, 2016|News|

Fertility treatment supported by mindfulness program

Posted 01.08.2015 | by AMRA

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Infertility is a heartbreaking condition affecting approximately 6% of American married women. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a voluntary fertility treatment that involves combining a sperm and egg outside of a woman’s body and implanting the resulting embryo in her uterus. IVF success rates vary widely depending on multiple factors including a woman’s age, general health status, and the specific IVF method used.

IVF can be emotionally and physically taxing due to the demands of the procedure and the uncertainty of success. There is currently a need to improve the quality of life of women undergoing this procedure. Li et al. [Behaviour Research and Therapy] investigated whether a mindfulness-based intervention can improve both the quality of life and pregnancy rates of women undergoing first-time IVF treatment.

The researchers assigned 108 women (average age = 30 years) seeking IVF at a Chinese medical center to either IVF plus a mindfulness-based intervention or IVF alone. Assignment was not random, but based on patient convenience in terms of time constraints and travel distance to the medical center.

The six-week mindfulness program was a group-based intervention that was specifically tailored to IVF and infertility concerns and contained elements of MBSR, MBCT, Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), self-compassion, fertility quality of life, difficulties in emotional regulation, and infertility coping styles both at baseline and post-intervention. Mindfulness and control participants did not differ in any of these self-report measures at baseline. Pregnancy status was assessed at six-months post-intervention.

Mindfulness participants showed significantly greater increases in self-reported levels of mindfulness (partial η2=.10), self-compassion (partial η2=.08), and quality of life […]

January 8th, 2016|News|