Improve Emotions and Thinking with Mindfulness

Improve Emotions and Thinking with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Through mindfulness you can learn to turn your negative emotions into your greatest teachers and sources of strength. . . Instead of ‘turning away’ from pain in avoidance we can learn to gently ‘turn towards’ what we’re experiencing. We can bring a caring open attention towards the wounded parts of ourselves and make wise choices about how to respond to ourselves and to life.” – Melli O’Brien


Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with improved cognition (thinking). In addition, mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotions and their regulation. Practitioners demonstrate more positive and less negative emotions and the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, while responding to them in appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions.


Most of the research studying the effects of mindfulness on emotions and thinking have been conducted with western participants. It is important to assess the generalizability of these findings to eastern populations. In today’s Research News article “Can Mindfulness-Based Training Improve Positive Emotion and Cognitive Ability in Chinese Non-clinical Population? A Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Zhu and colleagues recruited healthy Chinese college students who never participated in mindfulness practices. They were randomly assigned to receive either a 12 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training or no treatment. The MBSR program met for 2.5 hours once a week along with 30-45 minutes of daily home practice and consisted of discussion, meditation, yoga, and body scan practices. They were measured before, during, and after training for mindfulness, emotions, attention with a Continuous Performance Task, and executive function with a Stroop task.


They found that in comparison to the no-treatment control group, after training the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group had significantly higher mindfulness and positive emotions. They had faster responses on the Continuous Performance Task, suggesting better sustained attention.  They further found that the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the increases in positive emotions and sustained attention, suggesting that the training effected mindfulness which, in turn, affected emotions and attention.


It has been well established that mindfulness trainings, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are effective in improving emotions, attention, and mindfulness in western participants. The present study demonstrates that similar effects occur in eastern participants. This expands the generalizability of the findings, suggesting that MBSR training is effective regardless of race and culture.


So, improve emotions and thinking with mindfulness.


Flexing your ability to think about your thinking and practicing brief bouts of daily meditation is good for your health and has an endless list of psychological and physical benefits for your well-being.” – Christopher Bergland


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Zhu, T., Xue, J., Montuclard, A., Jiang, Y., Weng, W., & Chen, S. (2019). Can Mindfulness-Based Training Improve Positive Emotion and Cognitive Ability in Chinese Non-clinical Population? A Pilot Study. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1549. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01549




Based on eastern philosophy, mindfulness is becoming popular for human being’s mental health and well-being in western countries. In this study, we proposed to explore the effectiveness and potential pathway of mindfulness-based training (MBT) on Chinese Non-clinical higher education students’ cognition and emotion.


A paired control design was used. 48 higher education students (24 in MBT group, 24 in control group) were recruited in the study. The MBT group engaged in a 12-week MBT. A package of measurements, including sustained attention tasks (The Continuous Performance Test, CPT), executive function task (Stroop) for cognitive functions, the self-reported mindfulness levels (The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS) and emotion (The Profile of Mood States, POMS), were apply for all participants at baseline and every 4 weeks during next 12 weeks.


There were no differences in baseline demographic variables between two groups. Over the 12-week training, participants assigned to MBT group had a significantly greater reduction in CPT reaction time (Cohen’s d 0.72), significantly greater improvement in positive emotion (Vigor-Activity, VA) (Cohen’s d 1.08) and in MAAS (Cohen’s d 0.49) than those assigned to control group. And, MAAS at 4th week could significantly predict the CPT RT and VA at 8th week in the MBT group. VA at 4th week could significantly predict the CPT RT at 8th week (B = 4.88, t = 2.21, p = 0.034, R2= 0.35).


This study shows the efficiency of 12-week MBT on Chinese Non-clinical students’ cognition and emotion. Mindfulness training may impact cognition and emotion through the improvement in mindfulness level, and may impact cognition through the improvement in positive emotion.


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