A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation

Van Dam, Nicholas T., et al. “Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2017. Full text online.

Abstract. During the past two decades, mindfulness meditation has gone from being a fringe topic of scientific investigation to being an occasional replacement for psychotherapy, tool of corporate well-being, widely implemented educational practice, and “key to building more resilient soldiers.” Yet the mindfulness movement and empirical evidence supporting it have not gone without criticism. Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed.

Addressing such concerns, the present article discusses the difficulties of defining mindfulness, delineates the proper scope of research into mindfulness practices, and explicates crucial methodological issues for interpreting results from investigations of mindfulness. For doing so, the authors draw on their diverse areas of expertise to review the present state of mindfulness research, comprehensively summarizing what we do and do not know, while providing a prescriptive agenda for contemplative science, with a particular focus on assessment, mindfulness training, possible adverse effects, and intersection with brain imaging.

Our goals are to inform interested scientists, the news media, and the public, to minimize harm, curb poor research practices, and staunch the flow of misinformation about the benefits, costs, and future prospects of mindfulness meditation.

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Mindfulness-based intervention and happiness

Malboeuf-Hurtubise, Catherine, et al. “The Impact of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Happiness: A Reflection on the Relevance of Integrating a Positive Psychology Framework within Mindfulness Research in Youth.” International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 2017, pp. 1-15. Full text.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are increasingly implemented in school settings to alleviate psychological distress in elementary and high school students. Recently, authors have brought forward the fact that the focus and aims of MBIs in clinical settings are largely placed on reducing negative variables and symptoms associated to mental health disorders. Thus, these may not allow us to fully understand how and in which contexts MBIs can be useful in adult populations. As MBIs aim to help people bring focus to the present moment and awareness to all aspects of experience, both the positive and the negative, it appears relevant to study their potential to improve on positive variables, such as happiness.

This paper aims to engage in a reflection on the relevance of incorporating a positive psychology framework within MBI research in youth. Specifically, the importance of measuring the impact of MBIs on positive variables such as happiness are discussed.

Potential antitode to stress-induced eating

Masih, Tasmiah, et al. “Stress-induced eating and the relaxation response as a potential antidote: A review and hypothesis.” Appetite, online 5 Aug 2017. 

Abstract. There is an accumulating body of evidence to indicate that stress leads to the consumption of unhealthy, energy-dense, palatable food, potentially contributing to the alarming global prevalence of chronic diseases, including obesity. However, comparatively little research has been devoted to addressing how best to remedy this growing problem.

We provide an overview of the influence of stress on dietary intake, and then explore the novel, yet simple, possibility that regular elicitation of the relaxation response may effectively reduce stress-induced eating via both physiological and psychological pathways. If shown to be effective, the regular practice of relaxation may provide a convenient, cost efficient, patient-centered therapeutic practice to assist in the prevention of unhealthy weight gain and other negative consequences of unhealthy food intake.

All you can eat Buffets and mindful eating

Ali, Zeeshan, et al. “All you can eat Buffets, obesity, mindfulness, and mindful eating: An exploratory investigation.” Journal of Psychology and Psychiatry, vol 1, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-5. Full text.

Abstract. Obesity has been mostly explained through the change in our everyday environments and the increased availability of foods. All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets (AYCEB) is a typical example of the developing ‘obesogenic’ environment, but there is a paucity of research, which fails to explore both internal and external contributing aspects to
eating behaviour.

In two studies, the frequency of visits at AYCEB is investigated against the Body Mass Index (BMI), psychological traits (i.e., mindfulness and selfcompassion, (n=210) and eating behaviors (i.e., mindful eating, n=183) which have been found to assist weight regulation.

Results indicated that frequency of visits and BMI are unrelated. Significant relationships were found only with two subscales, where buffet visits negatively correlated with awareness within mindful eating, while a positive correlation was found between buffet visits and self-kindness. While results fit within the limited literature available, the generic future applicability of mindfulness-based constructs and interventions in eating behaviours is discussed.

Fibromyalgia

Adler-Neal, Adrienne L., and Fadel Zeidan. “Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations.” Current Rheumatology Reports, vol. 19, no. 9, 2017, pp. 59. Full text.

Summary. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain and a spectrum of psychological comorbidities, rendering treatment difficult and often a financial burden. Fibromyalgia is a complicated chronic pain condition that requires a multimodal therapeutic approach to optimize treatment efficacy. Thus, it has been postulated that mind-body techniques may prove fruitful in treating fibromyalgia.

Mindfulness meditation, a behavioral technique premised on non-reactive sensory awareness, attenuates pain and improves mental health outcomes. However, the impact of mindfulness meditation on fibromyalgia-related outcomes has not been comprehensively characterized.

The present review delineates the existing evidence supporting the effectiveness and hypothesized mechanisms of mindfulness meditation in treating fibromyalgia-related outcomes.

Cultivating emotional balance: two case studies

Weininger, Radhule, et al. “The Mindful Pause: Cultivating Emotional Balance through Mindfulness.” No date. Full text.

Abstract. The Buddhist technique named Mindfulness has become widespread in clinical
practice as a way to approach mental and emotional well being. The mindful pause is described as a way to interrupt habitual reactivity and engage compassionately.

It forms a step in the Emotional Awareness Process (EAP) and the Compassionate
Choice Process (CCP), which have been developed as therapeutic techniques
grounded in both Buddhist and neuroscientific contexts.

Two case examples of application of the processes illustrate how these new therapeutic interventions may prove beneficial in clinical practice. Lastly, more potential applications are proposed, and possible limitations, future projects and research noted.

Emotion regulation and mental habit in mindful eating

Fisher, Naomi R., et al. “Dispositional mindfulness and reward motivated eating: The role of emotion regulation and mental habit.” Appetite, published online 21 Jul 2017.

From the Abstract.  Evidence regarding the effectiveness of mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) for eating disorders, weight management and food craving is emerging and further studies are required to understand the underlying mechanisms of MBIs in these domains.

The current study was designed to establish the role of specific mechanisms underlying the putative relationship between mindfulness and reward motivated eating. We predicted that mindfulness would be negatively related to features of reward motivated eating and that this association would be mediated by emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking.

A cross-sectional survey measuring uncontrolled and emotional eating, mindfulness, emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking was completed by female and male meditators and non-meditators (N = 632). Lower levels of dispositional mindfulness were associated with difficulties in emotion regulation, habitual negative self-thinking and both emotional and uncontrolled eating.

Difficulties in emotion regulation significantly mediated the mindfulness-uncontrolled eating relationship. Habitual negative self-thinking significantly mediated the mindfulness-emotional eating relationship. Participants with meditation experience reported greater levels of dispositional mindfulness, fewer difficulties with emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking and reduced uncontrolled eating tendencies, compared to non-meditators.

The findings suggest that MBIs designed to change reward motivated eating and weight control should focus on emotion regulation and mental habits as underlying mechanisms.