Posted: 05.29.2014 | by AMRA

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Present-moment awareness is usually considered a desirable mental state, but prior research using the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) has shown that the factor of observing present-moment experience is counterintuitively correlated with increased anxiety and inconsistently correlated with depression. Under what circumstances does the observation of present-moment experience improve well-being and under what circumstances does it exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety?

Desrosiers et al. [Journal of Affective Disorders] hypothesized that present-moment observation must be coupled with the factor of non-reactivity in order to optimize its benefits. Observation alone can trigger rumination and worry, resulting in elevated distress, but when coupled with non-reactivity, it provides a space that allows for subsequent higher-level cognitive reappraisal.

The authors tested whether non-reactivity moderates the after-effects of observing depressive and anxiety symptoms, i.e, whether it decreases subsequent rumination and worry and facilitates cognitive reappraisal. They administered the FFMQ along with self-report measures of mood, worry, rumination, and cognitive reappraisal to 189 adults with depressive and anxiety disorders, and conducted an analysis of the intercorrelations between those measures. Findings were largely supportive of a crucial role for non-reactivity.

Observing present-moment experience significantly increased depressive symptoms in those participants who had the lowest levels of non-reactivity, while higher levels of non-reactivity were correlated with significantly decreased observation-induced rumination and worry, and increased observation-related cognitive reappraisal. For participants with low levels of non-reactivity, high levels of observation led to increased worry and rumination, whereas greater observation was related to less rumination among participants with high levels of non-reactivity. Similarly, the greater their non-reactivity, the greater the odds that participants would make use of cognitive reappraisal.

Observing was positively correlated with worry for participants below the 8th percentile on non-reactivity, and inversely correlated to worry when participants were above the 92 percentile on non-reactivity. The authors also uncovered a complex set of indirect effects between depressive and anxiety symptoms, observation, non-reactivity, and rumination, worry, and cognitive reappraisal.

This study underscores the importance of defining mindfulness in a way that includes not only the moment-to-moment observation of experience, but also non-reactivity to that experience. One implication of this is that clinicians and researchers should consider developing and adding additional skills-training modules in non-reactivity to mindfulness-based interventions when treating highly reactive populations.

Reference:

Desrosiers, A., Vine, V., Curtiss, J., & Klemanski, D. H. (2014). Observing nonreactively: A conditional process model linking mindfulness facets, cognitive emotion regulation strategies, and depression and anxiety symptoms. Journal of Affective Disorders,165:31-37.

[Link to abstract]