Mobile app effective in helping naive meditators approach mindfulness

Chittaro, L., & Vianello, A. (2013). Computer-supported mindfulness: Evaluation of a mobile thought distancing application on naive meditators. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. In press.

Abstract. The last two decades have seen a constantly increasing interest in mindfulness, due to its positive effects on health and well-being. Recently, a number of mobile applications aimed at supporting people in practicing mindfulness techniques have appeared, but their efficacy has not been formally evaluated yet. In this paper, we first introduce the reader to mindfulness techniques, traditional as well as computer-based. Then, we propose and evaluate a mobile application (called AEON) aimed at helping users in practicing thought distancing, i.e. a mindfulness technique that requires one not to react in response to his/her thoughts but to be aware of them and observe them while they go away.

AEON allows the user to enter his/her thoughts and visualize them as written in ink on a parchment placed under water. By touching the screen, the user can interact with the water and produce waves that progressively dissolve each written thought. We evaluate AEON on a sample of naive meditators (i.e. people with no or minimal experience with meditation), contrasting it with two traditional thought distancing techniques that are not computer-based.

The first traditional technique requires users to mentally visualize their thoughts as printed on clouds and observe them as they pass by, while the second requires users to write their thoughts on cards, then pick up the cards one at a time, look at them and toss them into a wastepaper basket. AEON obtained better results in terms of achieved mindfulness, perceived level of difficulty and degree of pleasantness.

Since practicing mindfulness tends to be difficult for naive meditators, these results suggest that AEON can be a novel and effective way to help them approach mindfulness.

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