Psychology

03/20/13

Amanda Balough

 Mindful Meditation and Psychology

            A great deal of modern studies and research has been dedicated to identifying the psychological, social, and psychological benefits of mindfulness-based meditation. Mindful meditation have positive influences on the structure and neural patterns in our brain that are strengthened due to continued practice.  Meditation itself is an intentional and self-regulated focusing of attention whose purpose is to relax and calm the mind and body. Mindful meditation is a form of mediation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally as they appear in order to remove one’s self from them and gain insight and awareness of one’s mind and body. Many researchers have conducted multiple studies in an attempt to understand how great the effects of mindful meditation are and how the practice of mindful meditation influences the human psychology.

The three studies that I researched were titled “Relationships between Mindfulness Practice and Levels of Mindfulness, Medical and Psychological Symptoms and Well-being in a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program” by James Carmody and Ruth Baer, “Doing and Being: Mindfulness, Health, and Quiet Ego Characteristics Among Buddhist Practitioners” by Heidi Wayment Bill Wiist, Bruce Sullivan, and Meghan Warren. The final article that I read about mindful meditation and the psychological benefits was “The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Mindfulness” by Melissa Tanner, Fred Travis, Carolyn Gaylord-King, David Haaga, Sarina Grosswald, and Robert Schneider.

The first study, which was conducted by James Carmody and Ruth Baer, was titled “Relationships between Mindfulness Practice and Levels of Mindfulness, Medical and Psychological Symptoms and Well-being in a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program”. To better gather and analyze their data, Baer created the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ, which assesses the five elements of mindfulness: observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experience, and non-reactivity to inner experience. Observing is attending and/or noticing internal and external sensations, emotions, sounds, sights, and smells. Describing is defined as noting the previous stimulus with descriptive words.  Acting with awareness is being attentive to a person’s current actions, rather than just reacting automatically, while non-judging to inner experience is refraining from evaluating sensations and emotions.  The final, fifth factor is non-reactivity to inner experience, which is allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without attention being caught for too long.

Over the course of Carmody’s and Baer’s study, they used the FFMQ to evaluate the effects of mindful meditation on the participants. The study participants were chosen from students who were enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Medical School MBSR program in Worcester MA. The volunteers consisted of 174 individuals, in which half of the participants had been referred by their health-care practitioner and the others were self-referred.  The mean age of the participants was 47 years and 65% of the individuals were female. 65% of the participants were married or cohabiting, while 12% were single, 9% were separated, divorced, or widowed, and 5% didn’t provide an answer. Three weeks prior to the beginning of the 8-week study, the participants attend an orientation session which informed them of the format of the program.  They were also given logs that were to be filled out weekly. The researchers looked at the how the demographic characteristics, mindfulness, psychological symptoms, medical symptoms, perceived stress, and psychological well-being of the participants changed over the course of the study. The scores that were provided from the informational, weekly logs the participants provided all showed a significant increase in all mindfulness facts. The scores for the facets observing and non-reactivity to internal experience were great, while the score increase for describing, acting with awareness, and non-judging was moderate.

The participants would meet weekly for a formal session on the weekdays. They were also encouraged to engage in out-of-class practice six days per week. From, the data that was gathered in the eight week study, the participants displayed significant increases in the mindfulness facets of observing and non-reactivity to inner experience, increases in psychological well-being, and a decrease in interpersonal sensitivity and anxiety. The yoga practice was associated with changes in well-being, perceived stress levels, and several other psychological symptoms. The sitting meditation was associate with two mindfulness facets, psychological well-being, and symptoms of psychoticism. While the practice of mindful meditation had an impact on the psychical well-being, not correlation was found between the duration of the practice and medical conditions. The findings from Baer’s study because their research  supports that regular practice of meditation cultivates mindfulness skills for everyday life, which should lead to a reduction of stress and an increase in well-being.

The second study, “Doing and Being: Mindfulness, Health, and Quiet Ego Characteristics Among Buddhist Practitioners”, was conducted by Heidi Wayment, Bill Wiist, Bruce Sullivan, and Meghan Warren. In their study, they examined “…the relationship between meditation experience, psychological mindfulness, quiet ego characteristics, and self-reported physical health in a diverse sample of adults with a range of Buddhist experience gathered from a web-based survey administered to Buddhist practitioners around the world between August 1, 2007, and January 31, 2008.” (Wayment, 5) Psychological mindfulness has been reported to be associated with numerous psychological benefits, which includes happiness, eudemonic well-being, and physical health. The researchers wanted to test to see if an extensive amount of mindfulness meditation training, such as what Buddhists practice, would have an effect on the amount of mindfulness they portray. That was the studies first goal. The second goal of the study was to examine whether psychological mindfulness was related to the quiet ego characteristics and self-reported general health. The researchers had discovered, through previous studies, that spending more time in meditation per week and practicing Buddhism for a longer period of time were related and both appeared to portray greater levels of psychological mindfulness.

Previous studies on college students, who had little to no experience with mindful meditation, were tested with the Five-Factor Mindfulness Scale, or FFMQ. However, the same scale is not applicable to the experienced meditators, for the amount of mindfulness reported during meditations was unrelated to all five mindfulness factors. Among novice meditators, self-reported mindfulness was positively associated with one of the five subscales. However, it was reported that experienced meditators, compared to the novice meditators, had greater mindfulness during meditation, suggesting that there is an importance of experience with meditation that could relate to the ability to be mindful during meditation. The first goal of the study was to test the assumption that experience with meditation is connected to increased levels of psychological mindfulness. The second goal of the study was to look at the viability of the latent variable that represented the unmeasured “quiet ego” characteristics.  Quiet ego characteristics were expected to be related to positive health. Wayment, Wiist, Sullivan, and Warren expected that psychological mindfulness would be an important component of quiet ego characteristics, psychological mindfulness would be indirectly related to physical health through its relation to quiet ego characteristics, and the meditation practices would be indirectly related to better physical health through the relationship with psychological mindfulness and quiet ego characteristics. In summarization, the researchers wanted to examine the relationship between meditation experience, psychological mindfulness, quiet ego characteristics, and self-reported physical health in a sample of adults with Buddhist experience.

The research for the study were gathered through a web-based survey that was distributed to Buddhist practitioners from around the world. The survey was available for participants for six months and 1,237 individuals began the survey by completing the initial questions about Buddhism. 775, or 63%, of the participant completed the demographic questions. The average age of the participants was 47 years and 58% of the respondents were female, while 42% were male. Three percent of the respondents had a high school degree or less, while 31% were college graduates, and 50% of the participants had a graduate or professional degree. 47% of the respondents were working, while the rest were not employed or retired, housewives, students, or unable to work. Seventy-nine percent of the participants were born in the United States and ninety percent identified themselves of white descent. The questionnaire that all of the participants completed consisted of twelve sections: daily meditation, duration of typical meditative session, years of practicing Buddhism, psychological mindfulness, self-rate health, quiet ego characteristics, sense of interdependence, altruism, wisdom, negative affectivity, anger/verbal aggression, and need for structure. For daily medication, the individuals were asked if they meditated once a day and then they were asked for how long their typical meditative session lasted. The mean length for the meditative sessions in the sample was 50.38 minutes. Participants were then asked for how many years they had been practicing Buddhism and the average was eleven years. For answering psychological mindfulness, the Mindful Awareness Attitude Scale, or MAAS, was used to assess the ability to pay attention to the present events. The self-rated health section required participants rate their general health, with 1 being excellent and 5 being poor. The average rating of the sample was 2.09, or very good health. For the quiet ego characteristics section, the quiet ego was described, by Bauer and Wayment, as consisting of three components: a sense of interdependence, compassion, and growth. The participants were to rate how much of each component they had. A sense of interdependence measures to what extent an individual’s identifies with living things. Respondents were asked to select a number that represented how close the participant felt to another person. Altruism assesses compassionate behavior and wisdom reflects the individual’s commitment to psychological growth. For negative affectivity, respondents were given a sentence, such as “I am often irritated” or “I often feel depressed” and asked to rate each sentence on a 5-point scale. “The anger and verbal aggression subscales of the Buss and Perry subscales Aggression Scale were used to measure affect and behavior that the researchers believed would be negatively correlated with quiet ego characteristics.” (Wayment, 8). The final section, need for structure, asked respondents to rate sentences, such as “I don’t like situations that are uncertain”, on a 6-point scale. Based on the data collected from their study, the researchers found that spending more time in meditation per week and having practiced Buddhism for a long period of time were both related to increased levels of psychological mindfulness.

The third and final study was titled “The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Mindfulness” by Melissa Tanner, Fred Travis, Carolyn Gaylord-King, David Haaga, Sarina Grosswald, and Robert Schneider. The researchers wanted to examine two issues. The first one questioned whether transcendental meditation increased mindfulness and the second asked if there “…exists a positive correlation between mindfulness skills of observing one’s thoughts and accepting-without-judgment a preexisting characteristic of samples interested in meditation, or is it an effect of meditation instruction itself?” (Grosswold and Schneider, 4). Unlike in the previous by Wayment, the participants in Schneider’s study were students from universities in the Washington D.C. area who responded to advertisements.  The study was conducted at American University. The participants were undergraduate or graduate students that were enrolled in school through August 2006 to November 2006. There were 287 eligible participants who passed the medical test. The mean age of the 287 participants was 26.35. Thirty-nine percent were male, while 86% were female. Out of the 287 volunteers, 68% were Caucasian, 15% were African American, 11% were other, four percent were Asian American, and the remaining two percent were Hispanic. The researchers used the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills, which is a 39-item questionnaire of the four subscales of observe, describe, act-with-awareness, and accept-without-judgment, in their study. Participants were asked to rate how much they would endorse each item using a 5-point scale to get a beginning idea of the mindfulness of the students. After that, the students were informed of what the TM program consisted of, what the study procedures, risks, and benefits were. The prospective participants had their blood pressure taken to determine if they were eligible for the study. Those who met the criteria were randomly assigned to two treatment arms. The transcendental meditation, or TM, is described as a natural and effortless technique that is to be practice twice a day for twenty minutes. TM is supposed to remove the mind from active levels of thinking and to a state of less mental activity. The state of restful alertness is called transcendental consciousness. The practice of TM is not intended as a relaxation method but a way to increase alertness through mindfulness.

The process of TM is taught in a series of seven steps:

  1. A 90 minute lecture offers a review of previous scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation program and a vision of possible benefits through regular practice.
  2. A 90 minute preparatory lecture provides a review of the mechanics and origin of the TM procedure. Each of the steps of instruction is conducted in a group setting. In the study, the preparatory lecture followed the introductory lecture by as short a time as 1-2 days, but sometimes as long as a couple of weeks, depending on the participants schedule.
  3. A one-on-one interview was conducted following the preparatory lecture. In the interview, the TM instructor gathered basic information from the student to aid in the instruction.
  4. An instructional meeting of about 90 minutes for learning the TM technique took place a day or two after the personal interview.

5-7. Personal instruction was followed by three 90 minute “checking” sessions on consecutive days, beginning in the day after personal instruction. The sessions were held in groups and the group consisted of everyone who had received personal instruction the same. On the first day, verification of the correctness of TM practice and further instruction took place. The goal of the second day was the understanding of the mechanics of the TM technique from personal experiences. Finally, the goal for the third day was the understanding of the mechanics of development of higher states of wellness and health through the TM program.

The researchers first addressed their main research question, whether transcendental meditation increases mindfulness. As the researchers and Grosswold hypothesized, instruction in and the practice of transcendental meditation led to significant increases in self-reported mindfulness. Grosswold and her associates believe that the research and data gathered in the study made two meaningful contributions. Firstly, that the interrelations among mindfulness component differ for meditators and nonmeditators, but it may function as a result of the interest in meditation rather than from the practice itself. Secondly, the TM program can lead to an increase in mindfulness and mental and physical well-being.

As supported by these three studies, mindful meditation can only lead to an improvement in psychological and physical symptoms.

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