Friday, November 19, 2010

Is Learning Mindfulness Associated with Improved Affect After Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

 Research suggests mindfulness is a multifaceted construct. We know that people develop greater mindfulness during mindfulness-based interventions, but we are less sure what aspects of mindfulness are most important to improved outcomes. Two researchers in the Netherlands have an article just published in the British Journal of Psychological attempting to link changes in specific aspects of mindfulness with particular outcomes following involvement in a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program.

Schroevers and Brandsma collected self-report measures from a heterogeneous community sample of adults at the beginning and end of 8-week MBCT programs. Post-interventions were collected for 64 of the 85 people who filled out pre-intention measures.

To measure mindfulness, the researchers used the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), and select items from the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS; "observing" and "accept without judgment" subscales) and the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS; "mindfulness" and "over-identification" subscales). (Click here for a post on self-compassion.)

At the end of the program, people showed an improvement in awareness of daily activities (MAAS), ability to observe experiences (KIMS), acceptance of experiences (KIMS), and being able to disengage from pleasant experiences (SCS), but there was no change in being open and curious about experiences (SCS).

What I found most interesting about this article are the more specific findings. Learning to engage in activities with a more present-centered focus was the most important aspect of mindfulness in increasing one's experience of positive emotions--although improvements were unrelated to reducing negative emotions. Learning to become more accepting and less judgmental of experiences was related to lower negative affect. These results suggest that the increase of positive emotions and decrease of negative emotions through the cultivation of mindfulness are related to the development of different skills to some extent. Acceptance was related to improvements in positive and negative emotions; increasing one's ability to mindfully engage in activity appeared to increase positive emotions but didn't impact the experience of negative emotions.

As the authors admit, there are some weaknesses in this study. As data was collected before and after an 8-week MBCT program, it's unclear whether these gains are maintained over time or whether more improvements may eventually emerge. Additionally, there was no control group, so we can't be certain these changes wouldn't have happened over time without the MBCT program--although there is enough research on MBCT to support its impact.

To download the article, click on the full citation below:

 Schroevers, M. J., & Brandsma, R. (2010). Is Learning Mindfulness Associated with Improved Affect After Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy? British Journal of Psychology, 101, 95-107.

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