Thursday, May 27, 2010

Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale

Dr. LeeAnn Cardaciotta at LaSalle University, and group of psychologists at Drexel University have created a measure of mindfulness (Cardaciotta et al. 2008). The measure is made up of two subscales: awareness and acceptance. What’s unique about this measure is that the two scales are orthogonal—that is, they aren’t significantly correlated with one another. Additionally, they show a different pattern of relationships with other measures. The awareness scale is related to a more general mindfulness measure, but the acceptance subscale is not. More interestingly, higher levels of acceptance are associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and rumination, but the latter measures are unrelated to awareness. These results suggest that acceptance may be more important in promoting positive mood than basic awareness. There may be different and distinct benefits associated with these two components of mindfulness.

To download a copy of the article from the Drexel University website, click here.

The full citation is:

Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., Moitra, E., & Farrow, V. (2008). The assessment of present moment awareness and acceptance: The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204-223.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meditation Changes Body Temperature

This is an older article, but it remains fascinating if you’ve never encountered it. For those of you familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, you’ve probably of Tummo, an advanced Vajrayana practice in which practitioners raise their body temperatures enough to dry wet sheets in freezing temperatures.

Herbert Benson and Sara Lazar at Harvard have actually studied and recorded this process. Buddhist monks were able to dry 3 x 6 foot sheets dipped in cold water in 40°F temperatures in an hour.

Read the full article in the 2002 Harvard Gazette.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Studying Mindfulness in Experienced Meditators

Often studies of meditation are conducted using samples of people taking 8-week mindfulness meditation courses such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Studies of experience meditators are less common. For this reason, I perked up when I came across Fredik Falkenström’s new study of experienced meditators.

The experimenter obtained a sample of Vipassanna meditators who had completed at least one retreat of one week or longer. He used a quasi-experimental design, which means that participants weren’t randomly assigned into groups. The experimenter collected assessments of mindfulness and well-being one-week prior and one-week following retreats of 5 and 7 days in 48 participants. These measures were compared to a control group of 28 experienced meditators who did not participate in a retreat during the time period that the assessments were collected. Mindfulness was measured using the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS) and Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), which include subscales of observing, describing, acting with awareness, accepting without judgment, and nonreactivity to inner experiences. The findings are quite interesting and easiest to understand grouped by hypothesis:

1. Mindfulness was related to well-being, as predicted.

2. The prediction that meditation experience was related to mindfulness was partially supported. Only the acceptance scales and the KIMS acting with awareness scale were related to meditation experience. Moreover, when controlling for age, only the KIMS acting with awareness scale remained significantly correlated, suggesting that we cannot rule out that greater scores on acceptance were related to age rather than meditation experience.

The authors note that because all the participants were experienced, there may be some ceiling effects, as the entire sample scored higher on the observe scales than the average population.

3. Although mindfulness skills increased following the retreat for the experimental group, they also increased for the control group. Interestingly, the increase for the retreat group was not significantly greater than that for the control group. The author suggests that it is possible the retreat group may have been struggling with post-retreat life following a week in quiet solitude. However, this is conjecture and the results remain intriguing.

4. Although mindfulness didn’t increase in the retreat group any more than the control group, well-being did. The retreat group exhibited significant increases in well-being, and this was greater than the control group.

5. The increase in well-being was associated with increases in mindfulness, but the relationship was not particularly strong.

The author discusses the apparent paradox in the results: the retreat was related to greater well-being, and well-being was related to greater mindfulness, but meditators who completed a retreat didn’t appear to develop greater mindfulness than meditators who did not attend a retreat during that time. Consequently, the authors note, there may be other factors that lead to an increase in well-being during retreat other than mindfulness (e.g., insight); also, it does not rule out that well-being is related to a placebo effect or something more mundane (e.g., the retreatants simply had a break).

Overall, these are fascinating results with much food for thought. Hopefully, the future will bring similar studies with experienced meditators, but with larger samples and greater experimental control.

Full citation:

Falkenström, F. (2010). Studying mindfulness in experienced meditators: A quasi-experimental approach. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 305-310.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review

The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology recently published a meta-analysis by Dr. Stefan Hoffman and colleagues at Boston University on mindfulness-based therapies for anxiety and depression.

For those of you who don’t know, a meta-analysis is an analysis of a collection of research studies. Researchers calculate what are called effect sizes for the studies. This allows researchers to amalgamate several studies in order to test research hypotheses.
After conducting a thorough literature review, the researchers found 39 studies that met their criteria. The vast majority of these were studies of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

From the results, the researchers conclude that mindfulness-based treatments appear to be effective in treating anxiety and depression. Additionally, the researchers note that mindfulness-based treatment may have a general applicability in addressing different processes across a wide range of conditions, severity, and in association with other problems such as medical conditions (e.g., cancer).

At the end of the study, the authors state their personal biases about the outcomes they expected. They admit that they were skeptical of mindfulness-based therapies and expected to find very small, if not nonsignificant effects. In fact, Dr. Hofmann co-authored a paper a few years ago that was critical of mindfulness-based treatment, titled, “Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Therapy: New Wave or Old Hat?” For these reasons, I think this article is an inspiring example of the integrity of the scientific method and the researchers who adhere to it. Despite their biases, Hofmann and colleagues were willing to move where the data led them. They did not try to explain away results that contradicted their expectations; instead, they conclude in the abstract that mindfulness-based therapy is a “promising intervention” for treating anxiety and depression.

For ACBS members, you can download the paper at their website. (UPDATE: Download an NIH copy of the article for free here.)

The full citation:

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169-183.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

10 Life Lessons You Should Unlearn

When I start this blog, I didn't expect to ever cite anything from Oprah Magazine! However, contributor Martha Beck's recent article is a sign that mindfulness and acceptance-based principles have entered the mainstream:

10 Life Lesson You Should Unlearn:

1. Problems are bad.
2. It's important to stay happy.
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past.
4. Working hard leads to success.
5. Success is the opposite of failure.
7. We should think rationally about our decisions.
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff.
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect.
10. Loss is terrible.

The majority of these life lessons can be found in some form in modern psychological research and the contemplative traditions. (I don't think we have record of the Buddha's teachings on whether, "The pretty girls get all the good stuff," though. Perhaps he taught about it and it never made the transition from oral tradition to written scripture.)

The full article can be found online. The author Beck has written previously for Oprah Magazine about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Meditation and Empathy

The National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine has an interesting summary on some neuro-imaging research with Dr. Lutz out of the University of Wisconsin suggesting that meditation practice is associated with increased empathy. Check it out: