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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Reducing adverse effects of childhood Stress and trauma

Ortiz, Robin, and Erica M. Sibinga. “The Role of Mindfulness in Reducing the Adverse Effects of Childhood Stress and Trauma.” Children, vol. 4, no. 3, 2017, pp. 16. Full text.

Abstract. Research suggests that many children are exposed to adverse experiences in childhood. Such adverse childhood exposures may result in stress and trauma, which are associated with increased morbidity and mortality into adulthood.

In general populations and trauma-exposed adults, mindfulness interventions have demonstrated reduced depression and anxiety, reduced trauma-related symptoms, enhanced coping and mood, and improved quality of life. Studies in children and youth also demonstrate that mindfulness interventions improve mental, behavioral, and physical outcomes.

Taken together, this research suggests that high-quality, structured mindfulness instruction may mitigate the negative effects of stress and trauma related to adverse childhood exposures, improving short- and long-term outcomes, and potentially reducing poor health outcomes in adulthood. Future work is needed to optimize implementation of youth-based mindfulness programs and to study long-term outcomes into adulthood.

Youth with anxiety (review & meta-analysis)

Borquist-Conlon, Debra S., et al. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Youth With Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 2017, pp. 1-11, DOI 10.1177/1049731516684961. Full text.

Purpose: To examine the effects on anxiety of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) among youth with anxiety disorders.

Method: Systematic review and meta-analytic procedures were employed to synthesize experimental and quasi-experimental studies authored between 1980 and 2015.

Results: The search yielded five studies from five countries reporting results for a total of 188 youth between the ages of 5 and 18 (mean age 13.26) who met criteria for an anxiety disorder.

Discussion: The findings of this review suggest that MBIs for the treatment of anxiety in youth with anxiety disorders are effective.

Weight-loss and health-related behaviors (review & analysis)

Ruffault, A., et al. (2016). The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. Summary.

  • Mindfulness training has been related to the adoption of healthier behaviours.
  • We conducted a meta-analysis of RCTs testing mindfulness training for weight loss.
  • Mindfulness decreases binge and impulsive eating and increases physical activity.
  • No effects of mindfulness training on weight loss in adults with excess weight.
  • Study design is a major source of heterogeneity in study effects.

Can compassion be defined and measured?

Strauss, C., Taylor, B. L., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is Compassion and How Can We Measure it? A Review of Definitions and Measures. Clinical Psychology Review. Full draft ahead of inclusion in an issue.

Highlights

  • Compassion is recognized as important across many sectors of society.
  • There is lack of consensus on definition and few self/observer-rated measures exist.
  • Five elements of compassion are proposed after consolidating existing definitions.
  • The psychometric properties of existing measures are poor, limiting their utility.
  • A new measure of compassion with robust psychometric properties is needed.