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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|

Meditation aids attention of older adults, brain regions identified

Posted 02.24.2016 | by AMRA


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|

Fertility treatment supported by mindfulness program

Posted 01.08.2015 | by AMRA


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|

Mindful awareness program offered to elite athletes on the USA cycling team

Posted 09.28.2015 | by AMRA


Skilled athletes must retain focus and maintain bodily awareness while resisting distractions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Haase et al. [Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience] explored whether a Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness, and Knowledge (mPEAK) intervention improved elite athletes’ bodily awareness and examined the underlying brain patterns associated with improved awareness.

Seven young adult, male members of the USA BMX cycling team underwent fMRI scans before and after participating in a 7-week mPEAK intervention. The intervention included traditional mindfulness practices along with didactic presentations on topics such as mindfulness, mind-wandering, self-compassion, and self-criticism. Athletes were assessed before and after training on measures of bodily awareness, emotional awareness, and mindfulness (FFMQ).

During fMRI scanning, athletes engaged in a computer-assisted attentional focus task while breathing through a mouthpiece that could variably restrict airflow making breathing more labored and effortful. At various times during the task they were given visual cues about the likelihood of future airflow restriction, so that the fMRI measured the brain changes associated with anticipating, experiencing, and recovering from restricted airflow.

Following mPEAK training, the athletes significantly improved their abilities to identify feelings (Cohen’s d = 1.1), self-regulate distress by attending to the body (Cohen’s d = 1.5), trust bodily sensations (Cohen’s d = 1.0), and describe emotions (Cohen’s d = 0.8).

Right insula and left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activation increased after mPEAK training during the time periods when athletes were anticipating restricted airflow. The magnitude of increased ACC activation during anticipation periods correlated with increases in the ability to describe emotions (ρ =.78).

There was also a negative association between increased insula activation during periods of recovery from restricted breathing and the ability […]

September 28th, 2015|News|

Motor symptoms from Parkinson’s Disease reduced with MBSR

Posted 06.24.2015 | by AMRA


Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in a neurological disorder affecting movement, cognition, and mood. It is caused by the loss of dopamine-secreting neurons deep within the brain. It is primarily managed with medication, but psychological factors like stress and depression can exacerbate its symptoms, and 40% of American PD patients turn to complementary and integrative medicine for help.

Pickut et al. [Parkinson’s Disease] conducted a randomized, controlled exploratory study of whether a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) can help reduce the disability and suffering associated with PD.

Thirty cognitively intact men and women with PD (mean age = 62) were randomly assigned to either an eight-week MBI closely following the MBSR protocol, or a treatment-as-usual control. Participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and rated their PD symptoms, depression, and quality of life at baseline and at eight-weeks. Their motor symptoms (e.g., tremor, rigidity, agility, gait) were rated by movement disorder specialists who were blind to treatment assignment.

The MBI participants showed a significant 20% decease in their objectively rated motor symptoms and a significant 13% increase on the FFMQ “Observe” scale. There were no significant group differences in self-rated depression or quality of life.

This is one of the first studies to explore the efficacy of a MBI in PD patients, and it supports the use of a MBI as a complementary treatment option. It is unclear whether the clinically meaningful decrease in motor symptoms seen in this study was due to either stress reduction, the MBI-induced grey matter growth seen in previous MBI research with PD patients, or the placebo effect. The study is limited by its small sample size and lack of active controls.


Pickut, B., […]

June 24th, 2015|News|

Mindfulness training improves sleep of older adults, clinical trial shows

Posted 03.16.2015 | by AMRA


About half of adults aged 55 and over report some difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Moderate sleep disturbances are often accompanied by daytime fatigue and disturbances in mood, and may be precursors to clinical insomnia. Current treatments for sleep disturbances include medications which can have residual daytime effects and lead to dependency, and cognitive and behavioral treatments which can be costly and require access to skilled therapists. There is an ongoing need for novel treatments that are safe, effective, low cost, and accessible in the broader community.

In a randomized, controlled study, Black et al. [JAMA Internal Medicine] evaluated the Mindfulness Awareness Practices for Daily Living (MAPs) program as a treatment for moderate sleep disturbance in older adults. Prospective participants aged 55 and above were recruited through advertising and screened for the presence of moderate sleep disturbance and the absence of other diagnoses that could aversely affect sleep (e.g., sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome). Forty-nine predominantly Caucasian (84%), female (67%) participants (average age=66) were randomly assigned to either MAPS or to Sleep Hygiene Education (SHE), a widely accepted sleep intervention designed to match MAPS in format, participant involvement, and participant expectations for benefit.

The programs were delivered in six two-hour group sessions that included home practice or study. MAPs participants practiced sitting, walking, movement, eating, and loving-kindness meditations. SHE participants were instructed in sleep education and sleep self-monitoring, relaxation techniques, and sleep hygiene strategies. Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index scores served as the primary outcome measure. Self-report measures of depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue, and mindfulness (the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ) were also included, as well as a blood drawn measure of NF-κB, […]

March 16th, 2015|News|

Web-based MBI combats work stress and burnout

Posted: 08.20.2014 | by AMRA


Occupational stress is not only harmful to employees, but is also costly to employers in terms of increased health-care expenses and decreased employee attendance, morale, and performance. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may have an important role to play in combatting occupational stress, but MBSR programs are time-intensive and often challenging to implement in the workplace, especially on a scale expansive enough to benefit large corporations.

Aikins et al. [Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine] developed an abbreviated MBI modeled after MBSR that was delivered on a web-based virtual classroom platform. The intervention makes use of a live instructor, webinar-and-email technology, and a printed workbook/practice guide to deliver 7, 1 hour-long, virtual classes and support 10.8 hours of home-based practice. The durations of the body scan, meditation, and yoga sessions were shortened to accommodate the hour-long format, there was no daylong retreat, and workplace-relevant material was included in the syllabus.

Eighty-nine Dow Chemical Company employees were randomly assigned to either the MBI or a wait-list control. Only 66 participants completed the study, due in part to the 6 MBI and 10 wait-list control subjects who never attended a class after being initially assigned to their groups. MBI participants significantly improved their mindfulness (as measured by the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), resilience, and physical, emotional, and cognitive vigor, and decreased their perceived stress compared with wait-list controls.

Treatment gains were maintained or continued to improve at six-month follow-up, with the exception of a small, non-significant rise in perceived stress. MBI participants reported significant decreases in high-stress days, burnout, and fast-food consumption, as well as increases in fruit and vegetable consumption.

Eighty-seven percent of the participants rated the program as […]

August 11th, 2014|News|

More needed beyond the present moment

Posted: 05.29.2014 | by AMRA


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 […]

May 29th, 2014|News|

Mindfulness Makes Men Feel More Connected

Posted: 02.10.2014 | by AMRA


Up to 90% of couples report a decline in relationship quality after becoming parents. Gambrel and Piercy [Journal of Marital and Family Therapy] developed a 4-week relationship enhancement intervention called the Mindful Transition to Parenthood Program (MTPP) for couples expecting their first child. MTPP offers skill-based relationship education within an abbreviated MBSR format to develop attunement, presence, perspective taking, and empathic responsiveness in couples.

To assess its effectiveness, 33 couples were randomly assigned to either MTPP or a wait-list control. MTPP men reported significant increases in mindfulness (as measured by the FFMQ) and relationship satisfaction, and a significant decrease in negative affect when compared with wait-list controls. Female partners showed no significant differences. Couples in this study reported unusually high baseline marital satisfaction, with the average couple reporting greater baseline satisfaction than even the happiest couples in prior research using the Couples Satisfaction Index. This limited the degree to which satisfaction could increase on the quantitative measures, and limits the ability to generalize the results to couples with lower marital satisfaction.

In an accompanying article, the same authors also performed a qualitative analysis of the themes that emerged in a post-intervention interview held with participants. MTPP women reported appreciating their partner’s participation and increased understanding of their pregnancy and connection to their baby. As they felt amply supported by female friends and family, they didn’t especially feel the need for MTPP group support. Men felt more connected to their baby, more identified with being fathers, and more understanding of their partners due to being in the program. As they felt little support or recognition from friends and family regarding impending fatherhood, they valued connecting […]

February 9th, 2014|News|

Sex Differences in Mindfulness Affect Romantic Conflict

Posted from archive: 10.28.2013 | by AMRA


Laurent et al. [Psychoneuroendocrinology] explored the relationship between dispositional mindfulness (measured by the FFMQ) and salivary cortisol reactivity in male and female members of 100 heterosexual couples who participated in a task designed to elicit acute stress in response to a romantic conflict. The task involved videotaping interactions in which the couples tried to resolve a relationship conflict.

Prior to the stress task, men and women showed differing relationships between the five FFMQ facets and mental health variables. Women exhibited significant negative correlations between FFMQ non-reactivity and non-judging and self-ratings of depression and anxiety, and a positive correlation between those same facets and psychological well-being. FFMQ acting with awareness and describing also correlated negatively with women’s depression and positively with women’s well-being. For men, FFMQ non-reacting correlated positively with well-being; FFMQ acting with awareness correlated negatively with depression; and FFMQ non-judging correlated negatively with depression and anxiety.

The relationship between the stressful task, mindfulness, and cortisol reactivity was complex and dependent on sex. Women reporting high scores on FFMQ non-reacting had higher cortisol levels after relationship conflict. Men who were high on FFMQ describing had less pronounced cortisol reactivity/recovery curves and less steep cortisol recovery slopes. Lower stress-related cortisol levels in women were linked to increased depressive symptoms, whereas lower stress-related cortisol levels and less pronounced reactivity/recovery curves were linked to improved well-being in men.

These results demonstrate different cortisol trajectories for men and women in response to relationship-related stress. Despite these differences, mindfulness seems to help members of each sex achieve an optimal state of stress reactivity, albeit by different pathways. The study suggests that mindfulness can play a protective role in […]

January 9th, 2014|News|