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I wanted to take this space-time to introduce you to an integrative systems-based neurobiological model and theoretical framework for understanding the mechanisms by which mindfulness functions to reduce attention-specific and affective biases related to self processing and creates a sustainable healthy mind. The model attempts to integrate findings from the extant empirical literature related to mindfulness with our growing understanding of the mechanisms for neurocognition and with traditional Buddhist systems from which contemporary practices of mindfulness originate. The paper in which this framework and model are discussed at length was recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. [Link]
Our method for understanding mindfulness has been to focus broadly on the goals of mindfulness as it is described in the early Buddhist suttas and in the Western medical model: To decrease mental suffering and create a sustainable healthy mind. In this context, we operationalize mindfulness in two ways: 1) As a broadly defined method for developing self-awareness, self-regulation and self-transcendence (S-ART); 2) As a continuous discriminative attentional capacity.
Our second formulation is one critical skill in a multidimentional skillset that is developed and strengthened through specific meditation practices. Other skills are described to function along with mindfulness to support S-ART.
To be clear, this is in no way a new definition that is meant to disparage Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s widely disseminated description: “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” – but more so an attempt to dismantle the concept into component parts so that we can better study it in the laboratory.
I discuss the framework in a recent talk given at the 23rd annual Trauma Conference in Boston, MA
The lay press for this theoretical framework can be found at:
Psych Central [Link]
Science Daily [Link]
Boston Globe [Link]
Medical Express [Link]
Stress is immunosuppressive. Research into this pernicious relationship between stress and disease has piqued interest in the ways that contemplative practices might positively influence the immune system. According to a large body of evidence, meditation appears to have profound effects on immune function in health and disease because of its ability to reduce stress.
Why does mindfulness reduce stress?
Two main facets of mindfulness meditation are equanimity and focused attention. Equanimity towards one’s thoughts decreases reactivity to stressful stimuli, and focused attention helps reduce the tendency towards the type of ruminative thinking that can activate the stress pathway. This relaxation response seems to have multiple effects on the body’s stress pathways. It enhances vagal tone, which in turn suppresses the activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines through the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway. It also reduces hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity in response to stressful situations, reducing basal levels of cortisol and meditating other downstream stress-related processes.
The majority of empirical evidence for meditation’s effect on the immune system support a protection and recovery model. Imagine being caught in a rainstorm without a raincoat and without a towel. In a torrent of stress, mindfulness is both the raincoat (preventative) and towel (palliative), so that, at the very least, stress is impeded in its course to reach downstream immune targets. Some lines of evidence are described below:
1) Richard Davidson has conducted studies on the relationship between affective style and brain lateralization, and has found that people with positive affect have increased right prefrontal activation compared to people with negative affect. In a recent study, Davidson and colleagues found that after an eight-week mindfulness program, subjects demonstrated both increased left-PFC activation as well as an increased antibody production after administration of a flu vaccine, indicating an enhanced immune response.
2) Amount of meditation practice in a 6-week compassion meditation program was positively correlated with a decrease in stress-induced interleukin-6 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine with immunosuppressive activity; increased IL-6 production is common among individuals with chronic stress and depression.)
3) Subjects who participated in a three-month mindfulness meditation program demonstrated increased activity in immune cell telomerase, an enzyme responsible for preventing immune cell death. Suppressed telomerase activity is related to increased stress perception. Increased telomerase activity is associated with decreased LDL cholesterol and epinephrine.
4) A “perception” approach to mindfulness and the immune system
Another proposed mechanism, in contrast to the stress-reduction paradigm, is a “perception” approach to meditation’s effect on the immune system, whereby one sensory modality shifts to accommodate another sensory modality. This perception approach is demonstrated by the classic “prism experiment”. If you are holding an object in your palm, you are receiving information from both visual and proprioceptive modalities. If a prism is placed in your line of vision, however, there is a perceptual discrepancy between the information from the two modalities. To overcome this discrepancy, one modality will attenuate to match the other. This “cross-modal adaptation” can also explain why mindfulness seems to positively influence the immune system. If one can visualize oneself as “healthy”, they can cause their immune system to attenuate to match the visualized information. However, there are two premises that must be accepted: a) the immune system is a sensory modality, and that b) visualization involves the same neurobiological processes that vision does and thus also functions as a sensory modality. This mechanism lacks substantial empirical support, however, and could benefit from further study. This mechanism may not pertain to mindfulness, which is more about an open, non-intrusive introspection. However, it may support visualization-related practices, such as Tibetan g Tum-mo yoga, in which practitioners are able to regulate their body temperature [LINK].
Benson, H., Beary, J.F., Carol, M.P. (1974). The relaxation response. Psychiatry, 37, 37-46.
Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., Sheridan, J.F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.
Jacobs, T.L., Epel, E.S., Lin, J., Blackburn, E.H., Wolkowitz, O.M., Bridwell, D.A., Zanesco, A.P., Aichele, S.R., Sahdra, B.K., MacLean, K.A., King, B.G., Shaver, P.R., Rosenberg, E.L., Ferrer, E., Wallace, B.A., Saron, C.D. (2010) Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Olivo, E.L. (2009). Protection through the lifespan: the psychoneuroimmunological impact of Indo-Tibetan meditative and yoga practices. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, 1172, 163-71.
Pace, T.W.W., Negi, L. T., Adame, D.D., Cole, S.P., Sivilli, T.I., Brown, T.D., Issa, M.J., Raison, C.L. (2008). Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Tausk F., Elenkov, I., Moynihan, J. (2008). Psychoneuroimmunology. Dermatologic Therapy. 21(1), 22-31.
Neuroimaging Research has grappled with the concept of a “resting brain”. Researchers interested in Consciousness have grappled with localizing subjective states of awareness and the elusive “self”. It seems that contemplative science is bringing both concepts to the table given the profound interest in tracing neurophenomenological states associated with “the self” and intentional, meditative practices.
All functional neuroimaging research has focused on Blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) changes in the whole brain associated with a particular active, goal-directed, cognitive or emotional function and which has shown to be statistically different from BOLD activity across the whole brain during a “passive” baseline state. The baseline state that most researchers use is typically a 5-6 min long period of passive “rest”. The instructions are typically, “Let your mind freely wander” and “try not to think of anything in particular”. These instructions sound benign and appear to be the perfect baseline state, but as it turns out, [surprise...surprise] a wandering mind is quite active. The mind in this baseline state has shown to have a tendency to wander towards self-reflection (in the past and into the future). Some researchers have called this type of wandering, “mental time travel”.
Recently, a growing body of research has investigated the nature of this resting, or “default” state, and has found that brain activation previously considered to be spontaneous noise actually reflects the operation of active and functionally connected neural networks. These patterns of activation has been termed the default mode network (DMN), have been shown to increase during passive states of rest, to diminish during tasks involving attention or goal-directed behavior, and tend to implicate brain areas associated with self-reflection, internal mentation, and narrative self-focus. In many forms of psychopathology, the DMN has been found to be more active during resting states and less likely to decrease in activation during active goal-directed tasks, suggesting a relationship between psychopathology, excessive self-reflection or rumination [about past events], and increased self-projection [into the future].
In a recent study[Link] by friend and colleague, Judson Brewer at Yale University, adept meditators trained in meditation techniques rooted mostly in Theravada (vipassana/insight) traditions actively meditated using multiple types of meditation practices (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness) while being imaged in the MRI. A “mind-wander” rest state was the baseline state in this case, and comparisons were made also between the adepts and a group of novices who had brief instructions how to perform each meditative practice.
As seen below, Experienced meditators demonstrate decreased DMN activation during meditation. Brain activation in meditators > controls is shown, collapsed across all meditations (relative to baseline). (A and B) BOLD activations were found to be greater in the left mPFC and PCC for adepts. Although, one should take note that the % change was very minimal (about .25 % at most). The mPFC and PCC are critical nodes of activation during typical mind wandering, self-reflection, and the core areas for the DMN.
Choiceless Awareness (green bars), Loving-Kindness (red), and Concentration (blue) meditations. Note that decreased activation in PCC in meditators is common across different meditation types. n = 12 per group.
What does this mean?
You may ask what this means and how it relates to mindfulness and mind-wandering. It suggests that adept meditators spend less time using the self-reflective network or “DMN” while meditating. This makes sense given the heavy reliance on concentration in these practices. But how about when adepts are simply “wandering” during passive rest? Are they like everyone else? Do they also reflect upon themselves in the past or into the future? This study did not quite capture the phenomenological differences between the groups, but it did find that the DMN had different functional connectivity patterns.
Using mPFC as a seed region for connectivity, they found increased connectivity with the fusiform gyrus, inferior temporal and parahippocampal gyri, and left posterior insula (among other regions) in meditators relative to controls during meditation. Using the PCC as a seed region, increased connectivity (compared with controls) was found with the dorsal ACC and DLPFC during all meditative states and baseline wandering, suggesting increased cognitive monitoring and working memory across both meditative and passive resting states. It would be helpful to know if there was a qualitative aspect of “wandering” that was about equal for meditators and controls.
Similarly, David Creswell and Lisa Kilpatrick demonstrated that 8-weeks of MBSR training showed increased functional connectivity of dmPFC (an anterior DMN region) with an auditory/salience neural network (especially with BA 22/39 (associated with auditory processing) and the dorsal ACC (involved in salience) . They suggest these results indicate greater positive coherence between self-referential, attention, and auditory sensory processing and may underlie greater attention and reflective awareness of auditory experience in MBSR trained subjects.
Again, the DMN is used here as a proxy for a “wandering mind”. Decreased activity in the cortical midline structures that make up this network reflects less self-reflection or narrative self-processing, and suggests more present-centered awareness, monitoring, and attention of interoceptive and exteroceptive stimuli in the environment and associated with the body. The reason I bring attention to this area of research is that contemplative neuroscientists will likely have to take these differences in the DMN between novices and adepts into consideration when scanning meditative states. In other words, a passive mind wandering state may be different between adepts and novices or naives. Thus, between groups comparisons should likely account for these differences and at the very least, quantify the qualitative aspects of mind wandering between groups.
ON THE OTHER HAND….
There is some evidence that mind wandering is adaptive. One study (for example) by Jonathan Schooler and colleagues demonstrates that increased mind wandering during a boring task increased creativity. Schooler has previously demonstrated a correlation between daydreaming and creativity—those who are more prone to mind-wandering tend to be better at generating new ideas.
See New Yorker write up [Link]
Here are some links to press related to these studies:
psychology today [Link]
- Meditation May Help Brains Rewire, Protect Against Mental Illness – KABC (kabc.com)
- Mind-wandering and mindfulness (psychologytoday.com)
- Our Wandering Minds…. (joannewellington.wordpress.com)
- MIND AND HEALTH Relax your mind and focus (tech.mit.edu)
- Meditation leads to less mind wandering, more doing (mentalflowers.wordpress.com)
Through my work with the Mind and Life Institute, I kept some statistics on the number and types of grants that were being awarded in the area of contemplative science. I also kept track of publication records. Here are some of those statistics (through 2010) to give you a sense of where this field is coming from and the steep slope indicating where it may be going.
Peer-reviewed publications as referenced by PubMed (through 2010) is indicated. Pubmed is a division of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. It comprises more than 20 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites. The dotted line indicates when the Mind and Life Institute’s Summer Research Institute began in 2004.
The graph above represents the number of grants awarded by the NIH through 2010. The RePorter database reports data and analyses of NIH research activities
Can meditation practice eliminate pain? NO, but it can it reduce the emotional intensity in which it is anticipated and experienced!
There have been a few studies up to today (jan. 4, 2012) that have investigated the effects of specific meditative practices that involve the state of mindfulness on the experience of pain. Some studies suggest that pain centers (Anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, sensory cortex, pre-frontal cortex) that are normally active during acute pain are significantly reduced in activity while performing specific meditative practices. Other studies show the same reduction during resting brain activity of chronic pain sufferers in response to practicing these meditative states, specifically, and in contrast to allowing one’s mind to wander. These reports typically show increased pre-frontal cortex activity as a regulatory mechanism for suppressing the sensory and affective experience of pain. See this typical report from the BBC:
However, there are other reports that suggest meditators are not suppressing the sensory or affective experience of pain, but rather increasing their sensory and affective experience of pain, but without a prolonged, dull, or negative quality. In this case, research is beginning to reveal what may be more akin to equanimity and embodiment, two qualities that typically are cultivated along with mindfulness during specific meditative practices. Equanimity refers to the ability to experience the sensory event fully, with awareness, but to return back to some normative baseline rapidly once the sensory event is over. There is no ruminative quality, or perseveration of the emotion in response to the sensory event. Embodiment refers to the whole-body visceral experience of the sensory event. These studies have been showing increased activation in brain areas responsible for primary and associative sensory processing along with interoception (internal bodily experience).
One example comes from a study by friend and colleague, Fadel Zeidan, who recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, ” Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation” [Link]
Focused Attention meditation reduced BOLD activity related to afferent processing of pain stimulus (primary sensory cortex). Meditation was also associated with deactivations in areas related to ruminative types of thinking (Default areas). Decreased pain intensity ratings were also found to be associated with increased activity in ACC and right anterior insula, suggesting a site for pain modulation.
the NPR story is here [Link]
The CNN-health story is here [Link]
Huffington Post [Link]
Men’s Health [Link]
Music for Meditation [Link]
Live Science [Link]
- Meditation as Medicine (Neurology Now)
- How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help People With Rheumatoid Arthritis (huffingtonpost.com)
- How Meditation Changes Pain, Relieves Depression (psychologytoday.com)
- How Meditation Might Relieve Pain (forbes.com)
- To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills (sott.net)
Over 3 decades of neuroimaging research has begun to reveal a distinct neurocircuitry model for depression and psychopathology that involves Cortical-Striatal-Pallido-Insular-Thalamic-Temporal connectivity and dynamic activity. Check out the link below for a recent publication that proposes this model based on decades of research from the area of neuropsychiatry.
There have been a number of studies investigating the effects of mindfulness and other forms of meditation training on the experience of pain, acutely or in chronic states. Below are just a few examples from 2009-2010
1. Brown, C. A. & Jones, A. K. P. (2010). Meditation experience predicts less negative appraisal of pain: Electrophysiological evidence for the involvement of anticipatory neural responses. Pain, 150(3), 428-438.
2. Cho, S., Heiby, E. M., McCracken, L. M., Lee, S. M., & Moon, D. E. (2010). Pain-Related anxiety as a mediator of the effects of mindfulness on physical and psychosocial functioning in chronic pain patients in Korea. The Journal of Pain, 11(8), 789-97.
3. Cusens, B., Duggan, G. B., Thorne, K., & Burch, V. (2010). Evaluation of the breathworks mindfulness-based pain management programme: Effects on well-being and multiple measures of mindfulness. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 17(1), 63-78.
4. Goyal, M., Haythornthwaite, J., Levine, D., Becker, D., Vaidya, D., Hill-Briggs, F., et al. (2010). Intensive meditation for refractory pain and symptoms. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(6), 627-31.
5. Grant, J. A., Courtemanche, J., Duerden, E. G., Duncan, G. H., & Rainville, P. (2010). Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in Zen meditators. Emotion, 10(1), 43-54.
6. Perlman, D. M., Salomons, T. V., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2010). Differential effects on pain intensity and unpleasantness of two meditation practices. Emotion, 10(1), 65-71.
7. Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2010). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: Variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(1), 29-36.
8. Teixeira, E. (2010). The effect of mindfulness meditation on painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy in adults older than 50 years. Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(5), 277-83.
9. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
10. Grant, J. A., & Rainville, P. (2009). Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in zen meditators: A crosssectional study. Psychosom Med, 71(1), 106.
11. McCracken, L. M., & Keogh, E. (2009). Acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based action may counteract fear and avoidance of emotions in chronic pain: An analysis of anxiety sensitivity. Journal of Pain, 10(4), 408-415.
12. Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2009). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: Variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. J Psychosom Res.
13. Zeidan, F., Gordon, N. S., Merchant, J., & Goolkasian, P. (2009). The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. Journal of Pain.
This also brings up the issue of PLACEBO. There are plenty of studies to demonstrate that negative expectation can enhance the negative experience. For example, a recent study published in Science Translational Medicine by Bingel and colleagues (“The Effect of Treatment Expectation on Drug Efficacy: Imaging the Analgesic Benefit of the Opioid Remifentanil” – [Link]) found that the effectiveness of pain killers on thermal pain decreased with expectation of receiving pain killers, while just the expectation alone of NOT receiving pain killers exacerbated the pain. In other words, the amount of potent opioid received was constant and the reported experience of pain changed in intensity depending upon expectancy.
I bring up Placebo not to make a point that the effects of mindfulness or meditation training can be reduced to a placebo response, but more so to emphasize the powerful capability of the mind to profoundly change experience of the world depending upon OUR EXPECTATION!
As it turns out, the mechanisms of pain may be fairly clear (see Melzack’s original 1965 SCIENCE article HERE), but the biopsychsocial influences on the interpretation of pain signals is far from being completely understood. Although over 50 billion dollars is spent on the global pain industry in prescription and over-the-counter pills…these remedies are typically little help, while some like morphine and other opiates can be highly addictive and subject to abuse.
A group from Univ. of Oregon in collaboration with the Institute of Neuroinformatics and Laboratory for Body and Mind, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China has found more evidence (see 2007, 2009 and 2010 articles) that short-term meditation in the form of IBMT can improve self-regulation and components of attention.
What is IBMT? According to the authors, it was developed in the 1990s as a technique adopted from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of meditation and mindfulness training. “IBMT achieves the desired state by first giving a brief instructional period on the method (we call it initial mind setting and its goal is to induce a cognitive or emotional set that will influence the training). The method stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead a state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, breathing, and external instructions from a compact disc. It stresses a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Thought control is achieved gradually through posture and relaxation, body–mind harmony, and balance with the help of the coach rather than by making the trainee attempt an internal struggle to control thoughts in accordance with instruction. Training is typically presented in a standardized way by compact disc and guided by a skillful IBMT coach”.
This group has been showing (2009) that Five days of integrative body–mind training (IBMT) (20 min/day) improves attention and self-regulation in comparison with the same amount of relaxation training. During and after training, the IBMT group showed significantly better physiological reactions in heart rate, respiratory amplitude and rate, and skin conductance response (SCR) than the relaxation control. Differences in heart rate variability (HRV) and EEG power suggested greater involvement of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in the IBMT group during and after training. Imaging data demonstrated stronger subgenual and adjacent ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the IBMT group. Frontal midline ACC theta was correlated with highfrequency HRV, suggesting control by the ACC over parasympathetic activity. These results indicate that after 5 days of training, the IBMT group shows better regulation of the ANS by a ventral midfrontal brain system than does the relaxation group.
The most recent 2010 article demonstrates that changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. In this case, 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures. 45 undergraduates to an IBMT or relaxation group for 11 h of training, 30 min per session over a 1-mo period. Before and after training we acquired brain images from each participant at rest for analysis of white matter by diffusion tensor imaging and gray matter by voxel-based morphometry.
The group goes a little far in speculating “IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders”, but the research is certainly promising for demonstrating plasticity in response to mental training
ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — Meditation has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an image in visual memory for a long time).
The question that this study addresses is whether meditation practice, specifically meditation on a Deity, or open presence allows practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness. What “heightened” actually refers to physiologically and behaviorally may refer to the ability to maintain complex images in the visual short-term memory for minutes or hours, which is rather long compared to a normal undergraduate student. Such sustained attention in the visualspatial domain may indicate a more developed attentional system and visual-spatial ability.
The researchers focused on two styles of meditation: Deity Yoga (DY) and Open Presence (OP). During DY meditation, the practitioner focuses intently on an image of deity and his or her entourage. This requires coming up with an immensely detailed, three-dimensional image of the deity, and also focusing on the deity’s emotions and environment. In contrast, practitioners of OP meditation believe that pure awareness cannot be achieved by focusing on a specific image and therefore, they attempt to evenly distribute their attention while meditating, without dwelling on or analyzing any experiences, images, or thoughts that may arise.
In these experiments, experienced DY or OP meditation practitioners along with nonmeditators participated in two types of visuospatial tasks, testing mental rotation abilities (e.g., being able to mentally rotate a 3-D structure) and visual memory (e.g., being shown an image, retaining it in memory and then having to identify it among a number of other, related images). All of the participants completed the tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes, while others rested or performed non-meditative acitivities, and then completed a second round of the tasks.
The results revealed that all of the participants performed similarly on the initial set of tests, suggesting that meditation does not result in an overall, long-lasting improvement of visuospatial abilities. However, following the meditation period, practitioners of the DY style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both the mental rotation task and the visual memory task compared to OP practitioners and controls.
These results indicate that DY meditation allows practitioners to access greater levels of visuospatial memory resources, compared to when they are not meditating. The authors state that this finding “has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss, and mental training.” Although, they conclude, future studies will need to examine if these results are specific to DY meditation, or if these effects can also occur using other visual meditation techniques.
1. Kozhevnikov et al. The Enhancement of Visuospatial Processing Efficiency Through Buddhist Deity Meditation. Psychological Science, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02345.x
Giuseppe Pagnoni, a Neuroscientist in the dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University just recently published a study on Zen Meditators and fMRI.
Using fMRI and a simplified meditative condition interspersed with a lexical decision task, they investigated the neural correlates of conceptual processing during meditation in regular Zen practitioners and matched control subjects. While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation. See the entire article published in PLoS ONE HERE.
The article received press in The New Scientist. “The closest thing to Jedi Mind Tricks” See HERE.
In order of personal preference:
1. Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) [Link] – The FFMQ, revised from the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills, is used to assess the construct of mindfulness. Previous research on assessment of mindfulness by self-report suggests that it may include five component skills: observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudging of inner experience, and nonreactivity to inner experience. These elements of mindfulness can be measured with the FFMQ.
Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., et al. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27-45. [link]
Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., et al. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329-42. [link]
Van Dam, N. T., Earleywine, M., & Danoff-Burg, S. (2009). Differential item function across meditators and non-meditators on the five facet mindfulness questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(5), 516-521. [link]
2. Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) – A 15-item, 7-point scale (1 = almost always; 6 = almost never) self-report instrument with a single factor. The MAAS appears to have appropriate application in research examining the role of mindfulness in the psychological well-being of college, working adults, and cancer patients, with or without comparisons to nonclinical controls.
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-48. [link]
Carlson, L. E., & Brown, K. W. (2005). Validation of the mindful attention awareness scale in a cancer population. J Psychosom Res, 58(1), 29. [link]
MacKillop, J., & Anderson, E. J. (2007). Further psychometric validation of the mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29(4), 289-293. [link]
Cordon, S. L., & Finney, S. J. (2008). Measurement invariance of the mindful attention awareness scale across adult attachment style. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 40(4), 18. [link]
Hansen, E., Lundh, L. G., Homman, A., et al. (2009). Measuring mindfulness: Pilot studies with the swedish versions of the mindful attention awareness scale and the Kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Cogn Behav Ther, 38(1), 2-15. [link]
Christopher, M. S., Charoensuk, S., Gilbert, B. D., Neary, T. J., & Pearce, K. L. (2009). Mindfulness in thailand and the united states: A case of apples versus oranges? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(6), 590-612. [link]
Van Dam, N. T., Earleywine, M., & Borders, A. (2010). Measuring mindfulness? An item response theory analysis of the mindful attention awareness scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 805. [link]
3.Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS) – A 13-item, two-factor structure (Curiosity, Decentering) has been validated in a number of clinical contexts. The items of Factor 1 (Curiosity) reflect an attitude of wanting to learn more about one’s experiences. The items of Factor 2 (Decentering) reflect a shift from identifying personally with thoughts and feelings to relating to one’s experience in a wider field of awareness
Lau, M. A., Bishop, S. R., Segal, Z. V., et al. (2006). The toronto mindfulness scale: Development and validation. J Clin Psychol, 62(12), 1445. [link]
Davis, K. M., Lau, M. A., & Cairns, D. R. (2009). Development and preliminary validation of a trait version of the toronto mindfulness scale. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23(3), 185-197. [link]
4. The Revised 12-item Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale (CAMS-R
Feldman, G., Hayes, A., Kumar, S., et al. (2007). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: The development and initial validation of the cognitive and affective mindfulness scale-revised (CAMS-R). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29(3), 177-190.[link]
5. The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHLMS)
Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., et al. (2008). The assessment of present-moment awareness and acceptance: The Philadelphia mindfulness scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204. [link]
6. The 30-item Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI)
Buchheld, N., Grossman, P., & Walach, H. (2001). Measuring mindfulness in insight meditation (vipassana) and meditation-based psychotherapy: The development of the freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Journal for Meditation and Meditation Research, 1(1), 11-34. [link]
Walach, H., Buchheld, N., Buttenmüller, V., et al. (2006). Measuring mindfulness—the freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Personality and Individual Differences, 40(8), 1543-1555. [link]
Kohls, N., Sauer, S., & Walach, H. (2009). Facets of mindfulness–results of an online study investigating the freiburg mindfulness inventory. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(2), 224-230. [link]
7. Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHLMS)
Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., et al. (2008). The assessment of present-moment awareness and acceptance: The Philadelphia mindfulness scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204. [link]
Hansen, E., Lundh, L. G., Homman, A., et al. (2009). Measuring mindfulness: Pilot studies with the swedish versions of the mindful attention awareness scale and the kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Cogn Behav Ther, 38(1), 2-15. [link]
Nicastro, R., Jermann, F., Bondolfi, G., et al. (2010). Assessment of mindfulness with the french version of the kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills in community and borderline personality disorder samples. Assessment, 1-9. [link]
9. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Adherence and Competence Scale (MBRP-AC)
10. Self-Other Four Immeasurables (SOFI)
Kraus, S., & Sears, S. (2009). Measuring the immeasurables: Development and initial validation of the self-other four immeasurables (SOFI) scale based on buddhist teachings on loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Social Indicators Research, 92(1), 169-181. [link]
11. Self-Compassion Scale [Link]
Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223-250. [link]
Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101. [link]
12. Solloway Mindfulness Survey – The SMS is offered free to teachers and their students. Teachers can download their students’ SMS measures in order to monitor growth in mindfulness. [Link]
13. Acceptance & Action Questionnaire II – AAQ-II – The AAQ-II was developed in order to establish an internally consistent measure of ACT’s model of mental health and behavioral effectiveness. Acceptance was the term used to positively describe this model underlying Acceptance & Commitment Therapy; thus, it is defined as the willingness to experience (i.e., not alter the form, frequency, or sensitivity of) unwanted private events, in the pursuit of one’s values and goals. [Link]
Hayes, S.C., et al., Acceptance and commitment therapy: model, processes and outcomes. Behav Res Ther, 2006. 44(1): p. 1-25. [Link]
See the following link for comprehensive review of current research in the area of mindfulness [Link]
Most of these are still under development. Not all of these scales do a very good job at clearly measuring what is historically referred to by Sati or Smrti.
What is Mindfulness you may ask?
Mindfulness originates from a deeply rooted system of contemplative practice. It is imperative that one consider these cultural and historical concepts in trying to define or operationalize Mindfulness. The term is traditionally described as the essential faculty to cultivate with all Buddhist meditation practices. It’s origin is from the words -
Kabat-Zinn (2005) defines mindfulness broadly in his book, “Coming to Our Senses” as:
moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgementally, and openheartedly as possible. When it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as deliberate mindfulness. When it spontaneously arises, as it tends to do more and more the more it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as effortless mindfulness.
Alan Wallace (2006) defines mindfulness as “Non-conceptual [meta-]awareness that does not label or categorize experiences and involves attending continuously to a familiar object, without forgetfulness or distraction”
Steven C. Hayes, 1999 defines a two-component model of mindfulness:
(a) the intentional self-regulation of attention to facilitate greater awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions; and (b) a specific quality of attention characterized by endeavoring to connect with each object in one’s awareness (e.g., each bodily sensation, thought, or emotion) with curiosity, acceptance, and openness to experience. Such a state involves an active process of relating openly with one’s current experience by allowing current thoughts, feelings, and sensations
Scott Bishop (2004) defines mindfulness as:
An intentional, reflective style of introspection or self-observation that, in addition, differs from concentrative meditation. Concentrative practices involve maintaining one’s attention on a single focus of awareness such as a single word or phrase, a candle flame, or even one’s own breathing (e.g., transcendental meditation, clinically standardized meditation). Although mindfulness, or insight meditation, also includes some concentrative practices, the focus of attention is unrestricted such that the meditator develops an awareness of one’s present experience, including thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations as they consciously occur on a moment-by-moment basis. Scott’s citation can be found HERE.
All would agree that mindfulness is a skill that can be developed through the practice of specific types of meditation; however, we need to be careful not to confuse the concept of mindfulness with the Western concept of mindfulness.
In order to put these sensitive semantic issues in proper context, I also would like to provide you with an excerpt from a paper (Is Meditation a Means of Knowing our Mental World?) written by Thupten Jinpa, Institute of Tibetan Classics, McGill University:
The word meditation in a contemporary cultural context often has the connotation of doing something special to calm the mind or to try and achieve some form of altered state of consciousness. One obvious fact that we tend to forget is that “meditation” is actually an English term and that, when applying it to convey a core element of Eastern spiritual practice, such as that of Buddhism, there might involve unrecognized conflation of meanings. In the classical Buddhist context, however, the term meditation is used to translate the Sanskrit term bhävana and its Tibetan equivalent gom (spelt sgoms). Etymologically, the Sanskrit term connotes the notion of “cultivation,” while its Tibetan equivalent gom carries the idea of developing “familiarity,” together implying the idea of some kind of repetitive process of cultivating a familiarity, whether it is with respect to a habit, a way of seeing, or a way of being. In its actual usage, however, the term gom is applied not only to the process of “cultivation” or “development of familiarity,” it is also applied to the resultant states achieved through such processes. So, in this sense, meditation can refer both to the practice of disciplined cultivation as well as the cultivated result of such a discipline. One can also extend the definition: we are all cultivating our minds in one way or another all the time. The quality of our lives reflects the ways we have cultivated our minds until now.
One MUST understand the cultural sensitivities involved in the introduction of these practices and therefore encourage you all to approach “mindfulness” and “contemplative practice” as a respectful anthropologist would treat an encounter with an indigenous culture (as Jon K-Z would say), while being careful to not unwittingly ignore or dismiss the deepest and most subtle features of such practices.
Good Luck! I look forward to discussion if needed.