The Evidence of Mindfulnesstraining
The number of academic studies examining the effect of mindfulness on sustainability has increased dramatically over the last 5-10 years and these build upon an already extensive evidence base. A 2021 review identified nearly 17,000 academic publications (approximately 15,000 articles and 2,000 reviews) referring to mindfulness in the title, abstract, or keywords.
Mindfulness has been found to positively affect a wide range of outcomes across health, wellbeing, performance and relationships. The highest quality of evidence comes so far from clinical studies addressing common mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, stress, over-eating and addiction along with managing long-term physical conditions such as chronic pain and cancer (35). Outcomes for Mindfulness-Based Interventions tend to be comparable to other evidence-based treatment, with evidence of superiority for tackling depression and smoking (36).
Recent meta-analyses also found positive effects on:
- Wellbeing and non-clinical mental health,37 including via digital apps and websites. (38)
- Workplace well-being, compassion, and job satisfaction, reduction in occupational stress, burnout, mental distress, and somatic complaints. (39)
- Cognitive performance, such as attention, memory and self-control. (40)
- Prosocial behaviour,41 compassionate helping and reduced prejudice and retaliation. (42)
- Physiological indices of stress including immune system response,43 and blood pressure. (44)
- Length of telomeres (45) (structures found at the ends of our chromosomes, erosion of which isassociated with ageing).
Evidence in non-clinical areas is currently less robust and positive effects may be over-reported, with most research at an early stage or limited by methodological weakness such as small sample sizes or lack of active controls. (46)
What neuroscience tells us
The neuroscience of mindfulness training has attracted popular attention since 2005, when Harvard researcher Sarah Lazar first published findings that meditation can change the structure of the brain, thickening areas of the cortex that help control attention and emotions. While research is still nascent and caution is required, this early message that “mindfulness can literally change your brain” (47) is a helpful counterpoint to a popular assumption that as adults we are ‘stuck’ with the mind as it is. Studies show that practice impacts the neural correlates of capacities important to adult development.
Research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions may increase activity and efficiency in brain areas and networks underlying attention and body awareness. Studies show reduced activity and volume in brain
areas involved in stress and anxiety experiences, particularly the amygdala.
The majority of scientific evidence for mindfulness relates to eight-week courses. However, research has also investigated the effects of shorter mindfulness training and one-off sessions. For example, one study found reductions in pain and associated brain changes after only four training sessions.(48) The findings showed significant decreases in pain intensity and unpleasantness. These decreases were observed during mindfulness practice and were associated with increased activation in attention regulation areas as well as reduced activity in areas linked to pain perception.
Other studies used brief mindfulness practices over a longer period (for example, at least ten minutes per day on at least five days per week for 16 weeks) and found improvements in brain functioning associated
with attention processing. Another linked increases in brain activity with improved attention processing after only three hours of mindfulness training over five days.
This text is taken of the report ‘Reconnection, meeting the climate crisis inside out’ by The Mindfulness Initiative.
35 Goldberg, S. B., Riordan, K. M., Sun, S., & Davidson, R. J. (2022). The Empirical Status of Mindfulness-Based Interventions: A Systematic Review of 44 Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 17(1), 108–130.
Goldberg, S. B., Tucker, R. P., Greene, P. A., Davidson, R. J., Kearney, D. J., & Simpson, T. L. (2019). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the treatment of current depressive symptoms: A meta-analysis. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30732534
Khoo, E.-L. L., Small, R., Cheng, W., Hatchard, T., Glynn, B., Rice, D. B., Skidmore, B., Kenny, S., Hutton, B., & Poulin, P. A. (2019). Comparative evaluation of group-based mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment and management of chronic pain: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Evid Based Ment Health, 22(1), 26–35. https://doi. org/10.1136/ebmental-2018-300062
36 Goldberg, S. B., Riordan, K. M., Sun, S., & Davidson, R. J. (2022). The Empirical Status of Mindfulness-Based Interventions: A Systematic Review of 44 Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 17(1),108–130.
37 Querstret, D., Morison, L., Dickinson, S., Cropley, M., & John, M. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Stress
Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Psychological Health and Well-Being in Nonclinical Samples: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Stress Management, 27(4), 394-411.
38 Victorson, D., Sauer, C., Wolters, L., Maletich, C., Lukoff, K., & Sufrin, N. (2020). Meta-analysis of Technology-Enabled Mindfulness-Based Programs for Negative Affect and Mindful Awareness. Mindfulness, 11(8), 1884-1899.
39 Vonderlin, R., Biermann, M., Bohus, M., & Lyssenko, L. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Programs in the Workplace: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Mindfulness, 11(7), 1579-1598.
40 Gill, L. N., Renault, R., Campbell, E., Rainville, P., & Khoury, B. (2020). Mindfulness induction and cognition: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Consciousness and Cognition, 84, 102991. Whitfield, T., Barnhofer, T., Acabchuk, R., Cohen, A., Lee, M., Schlosser, M., Arenaza-Urquijo, E. M., Böttcher, A., Britton, W., Coll-Padros, N., Collette, F., Chételat, G., Dautricourt, S., Demnitz-King, H., Dumais, T., Klimecki, O., Meiberth, D., Moulinet, I., Müller, T., … Marchant, N. L. (2021). The Effect of Mindfulness-based Programs on Cognitive Function in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-
analysis. Neuropsychology Review. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-021-09519-y
41 Donald, J., Sahdra, B., Van Zanden, B., Duineveld, J., Atkins, P., Marshall, S., & Ciarrochi, J. (2019). Does your mindfulness benefit others? A systematic review and meta analysis of the link between mindfulness and prosocial behaviour. British Journal of Psychology, 110(1), 101-125.
42 Berry, D., Hoerr, J., Cesko, S., Alayoubi, A., Carpio, K., Zirzow, H., Walters, W., Scram, G., Rodriguez, K., & Beaver, V. (2020). Does Mindfulness Training Without Explicit Ethics-Based Instruction Promote Prosocial Behaviors? A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(8), 1247-1269.
43 Rachael A. Heckenberg, Pennie Eddy, Stephen Kent, Bradley J. Wright, Do workplace-based mindfulness meditation programs improve physiological indices of stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.09.010.
44 Scott-Sheldon, L.J., Gathright, E.C., Donahue, M.L., Balletto, .B., Feulner, M.M., DeCosta, .J., Cruess, D.G., Wing, R.R., Carey, M.P., & Salmoirago-Blotcher, .E. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Adults with Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 54(1),
45 Meditation and telomere length: a meta-analysis Nicola S. Schutte,John M. Malouff &Shian-Ling Keng Pages 901-915 | Received 20 Mar 2019, Accepted 17 Dec 2019, Published online: 05 Jan 2020 Download citation https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2019.1707827