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 opportunity to aggress against the research confederate.

They were told to prepare a “taste test” for the confederate who “hated spicy food.” They could fill a cup up with as much hot sauce as they wanted for the confederate to drink. The amount of hot sauce poured was the measure of aggression.

Meditators and controls rated themselves as equally angry after the negative feedback. Meditators, however, added significantly less hot sauce to the cups they were preparing to give to the confederate (Cohen’s d = 0.84). Meditators added 3 grams, while controls added 7 grams.

Meditator’s lower level of aggression couldn’t be attributed to improved executive function as there was no difference between meditators and controls on the Stroop task.

The results show that young adults who participated in an app-based meditation training were less aggressive after receiving critical feedback, but not less angry. It suggests that being mindful doesn’t interfere with experiencing emotions, but changes how one responds to them.

Reference:

DeSteno, D., Lim, D., Duong, F., & Condon, P. (2017). Meditation inhibits aggressive responses to provocations. Mindfulness.

[Link to abstract]