Mindfulness research

Mindfulness Research in 2018-2021: What Does Research Finds?

May 7, 2021    •   minute read

This post is a random review of 2.986 mindfulness research articles from PubMed and Library of Congress databases.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a report about the dark side of meditation in Fearless Productivity Newsletter. Then, a few days ago, another study found that mindfulness meditation could cause independent-minded people to be less likely to help others.1

So, I decided to find out for myself what scientific research says about mindfulness in 2021, putting aside my prejudice as someone with multiple years of mindfulness and meditation practice. The databases I used were PubMed, Library of Congress, and Google Scholar.

Let’s dive in.

Mindfulness affects prosocial behaviors of people with an independent “self-construal”

This study found that mindfulness could make people with an independent self-construals less likely to help others.2

Self-construals refer to how people view their sense of self.3 Those with an independent self-construal view internal attributes traits, abilities, values, and attitudes as central to their sense of self. In other words, people with an independent self-construal are independent-minded. And those with an interdependent self-construal see themselves as part of a wider group. They get their sense of self from external attributes like close relationships and social roles.

The study selected the two different groups of people and assigned them to do two types of meditation: mindfulness meditation and mind-wandering meditation as a control. After the meditation, they read about a local poverty and charity. Next, they were asked if they wanted to donate.

84% of the participants did donate. But those identified with independent mindedness donated 15% less when they did mindfulness meditation. In contrast, the socially minded participants donated 15% more than the same group who did the control meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is not the exclusive factor.

Patients with mild-severe depression participated in a mindfulness-based intervention program. It ran for eight weeks. They were divided into two groups. One of them practiced informal, out-of-class meditation, and the other group did it with the support from instructors and group ratings.

The study found that relationships with instructors and group members are more important than mindfulness meditation for the treatment of patients with depression.4 In other words, a more important factor are bonding, expressing feelings and instilling hopes in the patients.

Experienced meditators perform better cognitively

While mindfulness meditation might negatively affect prosocial behaviors of an independent-minded people, there are other psychological and health benefits. For example, research shows that experienced meditators perform better cognitively and their mind is more relaxed.5

Vipassana meditators and matched controls participated in the study. They performed two attention tasks during scanning: a sustained attention task and an attention-capture task. The study found that task and resting-state results are consistent with brain health of long-term meditation practice.

Loving-kindness meditation may contribute to improving empathy and communication skills.

The study recruited 106 doctors from a hospital in China and divided them into two groups. Fifty-three of them received a loving-kindness meditation training for eight weeks and the other half did not receive any intervention. The participants did a pre- and post-test to measure their mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills.

Empathy and communication skills improved better among participants who received the training than those who did not; however, mindfulness did not change very much for both group.6

Mindfulness helps to increase productivity.

The study recruited 425 participants from four companies. They filled out questionnaires before, during and after a workplace mindfulness training program. The finding was that workplace mindfulness may reduce stress and burnout and boost well-being and productivity.7

However, another article reviewed three studies on the effects of meditation on employees’ health in the work setting and found that although meditation could have a role, it would be premature to conclude that meditation practice reduces occupational stress.8

Meditation can reduce the effect of suffering and improve spirituality.

The study engaged 60 palliative care patients. Thirty of them were assigned to the mindfulness of love group and the other half to the supportive listening group. The mindfulness group reported better results for their suffering and spiritual quality.

Only 5 minutes of meditation can improve suffering and spiritual quality of life, the study concluded.9

Mindfulness helps people better aware of hunger and satiation.

A group of researchers conducted two studies to find whether mindfulness has can improve awareness of body signals of hunger and satiation. They found that a brief body scan exercise helped people receive their bodily signal of hunger better. It might take longer to be aware of it, but the participants who did the meditation also felt full after eating 18 minutes before those who did not meditate.10

Calm app can be used to treat sleep disturbance.

640 participants took part in the study. Of 263 consenting and eligible participants, 124 were selected to use the Calm app to meditate every day for eight weeks. The researchers then assessed fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and pre-sleep arousal at baseline in both groups. Sleep quality was evaluated only in the intervention group. The findings suggested that the use of the Calm app not only improved sleep quality but also significantly decreased daytime fatigue and afternoon slump.11

Conclusion

By no means is this a comprehensive list of research findings, nor does it present a qualitative conclusion about mindfulness research in 2018-2021.

But here’s what I found:

A random selection the 2.896 results from the research database suggested that most studies found benefits of mindfulness and meditation including better mental health, sleep, work performance, and productivity. There are a few studies that found that the said benefits could be mythical.

My mindfulness and meditation experience suggests that I do feel like socializing less. I can read and write more while spending the rest of my time with my loved ones. But I do not feel any less prosocial. It could be that my level of independent self-construals is limited.

In contrast, the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been numerous for me. (I use the Calm app.) So, I will continue the practice while trying to keep my mind open to the actual experiences and studies coming out on the topic.

Over to you

Do you meditate? What is the experience like for you?

How do you feel reading about the studies I shared with you?

Leave a comment.

References:

  1. Poulin, M., Ministero, L., Gabriel, S., Morrison, C., & Naidu, E. (2021). Minding your own business? Mindfulness decreases prosocial behavior for those with independent self-construals. https://psyarxiv.com/xhyua/download?format=pdf
  2. Poulin, M., Ministero, L., Gabriel, S., Morrison, C., & Naidu, E. (2021). Minding your own business? Mindfulness decreases prosocial behavior for those with independent self-construals. https://psyarxiv.com/xhyua/download?format=pdf
  3. Giacomin, M., & Jordan, C. (2017). Interdependent and Independent Self-Construal. In Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (pp. 1-7). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-81136-1
  4. Canby, N. K., Eichel, K., Lindahl, J., Chau, S., Cordova, J., & Britton, W. B. (2020). The Contribution of Common and Specific Therapeutic Factors to Mindfulness-Based Intervention Outcomes. Front Psychol, 11, 603394. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.603394
  5. Devaney, K. J., Levin, E. J., Tripathi, V., Higgins, J. P., Lazar, S. W., & Somers, D. C. (2021). Attention and Default Mode Network Assessments of Meditation Experience during Active Cognition and Rest. Brain Sci, 11(5), 566. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11050566
  6. Chen, H., Liu, C., Cao, X., Hong, B., Huang, D. H., Liu, C. Y., & Chiou, W. K. (2021). Effects of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Doctors’ Mindfulness, Empathy, and Communication Skills. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 18(8), 4033. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084033
  7. Kersemaekers, W., Rupprecht, S., Wittmann, M., Tamdjidi, C., Falke, P., Donders, R., Speckens, A., & Kohls, N. (2018). A Workplace Mindfulness Intervention May Be Associated With Improved Psychological Well-Being and Productivity. A Preliminary Field Study in a Company Setting. Front Psychol, 9, 195. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00195
  8. Delmonte, M. M. (1984). Meditation practice as related to occupational stress, health and productivity. Percept Mot Skills, 59(2), 581-582. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1984.59.2.581
  9. Lim, M. A., Ang, B. T., Lam, C. L., Loh, E. C., Zainuddin, S. I., Capelle, D. P., Ng, C. G., Lim, P. K., Khor, P. Y., Lim, J. Y., Huang, S. Y., Low, G. Q. J., Gan, X. Y., & Tan, S. B. (2021). The effect of 5-min mindfulness of love on suffering and spiritual quality of life of palliative care patients: A randomized controlled study. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl), e13456. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecc.13456
  10. Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., de Vet, E., & van Trijp, H. C. (2021). The effect of a brief mindfulness intervention on perception of bodily signals of satiation and hunger. Appetite, 105280. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105280
  11. Huberty, J. L., Green, J., Puzia, M. E., Larkey, L., Laird, B., Vranceanu, A. M., Vlisides-Henry, R., & Irwin, M. R. (2021). Testing a mindfulness meditation mobile app for the treatment of sleep-related symptoms in adults with sleep disturbance: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One, 16(1), e0244717. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244717
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