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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Very Brief Introduction to Mindfulness Research

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

by Catharine Hannay

As I mentioned in a post on Challenging Questions about the Benefits of Mindfulness

One issue with the research is trying to compare results when there are there are so many different understandings of what is being measured and how. 

We can't really quantify mindfulness since it’s a state of being, not a medical condition or a competition. There’s no standard test that measures how mindful people are or how they benefit from practicing mindfulness. Instead, there are three typical methods of gathering information, which are quite different from each other.

  • Surveys and interviews.

  • Testing the level of cortisol in saliva. 
    • Since cortisol is a stress hormone, there’s a lower level of it in our bodies when we feel less anxious. (Yes, our spit changes when we’re stressed. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a little weird?)
  • Brain scans
    • an EEG (electroencephalography) measures electrical activity when our neurons send signals to each other; 
    • an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) shows which parts of the brain are active during different types of activities; and 
    • an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) shows how brain activity changes over time. 

There are a plethora of studies using one or more of these methods to study how mindfulness might (or might not) benefit specific populations. 

Mindful Schools has a very useful overview of the research, and you'll find links to many more studies at the following websites:
The American Mindfulness Research Association  
The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society  
The University of Bangor Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice 
UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center 
University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre  

I hope this very brief introduction was helpful. If you found this post useful, you might also be interested in the following posts:

You might also be interested in the many other Resources for Practicing and Teaching Mindfulness