Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

For people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for helping that process. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive. While facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.” – Willoughby Britton

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health problems, including anxietydepressionAntisocial Personality DisorderBorderline personality disorderimpulsivityobsessive compulsive disorderphobiaspost-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, suicidality and even with psychosis. It also improves the psychological well-being of healthy people. Interestingly, there appears to be differences between men and women in the occurrence of various mental illnesses. Women have a much higher incidence of emotional issues than men such as anxiety and depression. On the other hand, men are more likely to have conduct disorders and substance abuse.

 

One of the ways that mindfulness appears to work to improve mental health is by improving emotion regulation. This increases the individual’s ability to fully experience emotions but react to and cope with them adaptively, in other words, not to be carried away by them. Since women are more likely to have emotional issues than men, and mindfulness is particularly effective in improving emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness would have greater psychological benefits for women than for men.

 

In today’s Research News article “Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/, Rojiana and colleagues recruited male and female university students and trained them for 12 weeks, 3 times per week for 1 hour, in focused and open monitoring meditation. They completed measurements before and after training of mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and self-compassion. They then compared the effectiveness of the meditation training for men and women.

 

They found that after training both men and women improved in mindfulness and self -compassion, but women had greater improvements than men in mindfulness and the mindfulness facets of observing, describing, non-judging, and non-reacting. Women also showed greater decreases in negative emotions. For women, it was found that the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in negative emotions. Hence, they found that women tended to benefit more from the meditation training that the men.

 

These are interesting results that suggest that women respond to meditation training with greater improvements in emotions and mindfulness than men. This may well have occurred due to the facts that mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation and women have greater problems with emotion regulation and thereby benefit more. The greater improvements in mindfulness in women are interesting and may be due to the fact that the women were lower in mindfulness, particularly non-reactivity, to begin with. The meditation simply increased their levels of mindfulness to those of the men. This suggests that women have a greater tendency to react emotionally and that mindfulness training by decreasing this reactivity has greater benefits for women.

 

The results might have been different had the study measured behavioral conduct and externalizing behaviors rather than emotions. In a sense, the study played right to the issues than most trouble women and didn’t measure those that are more characteristic of males. Had they measured these factors perhaps they would have seen greater improvement in men rather than women. Regardless, women appear to benefit more emotionally from mindfulness training than men.

 

“When thrown by their feelings, men tend to “externalize” their emotions by doing things like working out, playing video games or otherwise interacting with their outer worlds. Women tend to “internalize” by analyzing and ruminating over their emotional states, psychologists say. While many men go outward — and one might argue, distract themselves from their internal world — women go inward.” – Drake Baer

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Rojiani, R., Santoyo, J. F., Rahrig, H., Roth, H. D., & Britton, W. B. (2017). Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 551. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00551

 

Abstract

Objectives: While recent literature has shown that mindfulness training has positive effects on treating anxiety and depression, there has been virtually no research investigating whether effects differ across genders—despite the fact that men and women differ in clinically significant ways. The current study investigated whether college-based meditation training had different effects on negative affect for men and women.

Methods: Seventy-seven university students (36 women, age = 20.7 ± 3.0 years) participated in 12-week courses with meditation training components. They completed self-report questionnaires of affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion before and after the course.

Results: Compared to men, women showed greater decreases in negative affect and greater increases on scales measuring mindfulness and self-compassion. Women’s improvements in negative affect were correlated to improvements in measures of both mindfulness skills and self-compassion. In contrast, men showed non-significant increases in negative affect, and changes in affect were only correlated with ability to describe emotions, not any measures of experiential or self-acceptance.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that women may have more favorable responses than men to school-based mindfulness training, and that the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions may be maximized by gender-specific modifications.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/

Change the Brain with Brief Mindfulness Training

Change the Brain with Brief Mindfulness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that qualities like warm-heartedness and well-being should best be regarded as skills.” – Richie Davidson

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects. They range from emotion regulation, attention, cognitive performance and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. These effects appear to be relatively permanent which suggests that mindfulness meditation produces some relatively permanent change in the brain.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

Although the effectiveness of meditation in producing psychological and physical benefits and in producing neuroplastic changes to the brain, the needed dose is not known. In other words, there is a need to investigate the effectiveness of different amounts of meditation practice and exactly what changes they produce in the brain. In today’s Research News article “Brief Mental Training Reorganizes Large-Scale Brain Networks.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5328965/

Tang and colleagues investigate the effects of a brief mindfulness meditation training, 10 30-minute sessions over 2 weeks, on functional connections between brain structures. The meditation training was called Integrative Body–Mind Training (IBMT) and includes body relaxation, mental imagery and open monitoring mindfulness meditation.

 

They recruited meditation naive male and female undergraduate students and collected functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans before and after training and compared resting functional connectivity after training to that observed at baseline. They found 105 different connectivity changes in the brains following mindfulness meditation practice. Functional connectivity was increased between the Occipital Cortex and a wide range of other areas, particularly in the Temporal Cortex, mainly the superior temporal gyrus and its pole, and the insula, and also with the frontal cortex, mainly the frontal operculum.

 

The study demonstrated that even a brief mindfulness meditation training of only 10 total hours of practice produces widespread changes in the nervous system. This is remarkable that such a small amount of training could produce such profound changes. This testifies to the power of mindfulness training to alter how our physiology processes experience. It is curious that the Occipital Cortex was found to be so involved. Occipital Cortex is involved in visual processing but Integrative Body–Mind Training (IBMT) is practiced with eyes closed. It is possible that the mental imagery was responsible for this involvement. But, it will take more research to understand the nature of the observed changes. Regardless it is clear that major changes in brain connectivity are produced even by brief mindfulness meditation practice.

 

So, change the brain with brief mindfulness training.

 

“Now, as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.” – Tom Ireland

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Tang, Y.-Y., Tang, Y., Tang, R., & Lewis-Peacock, J. A. (2017). Brief Mental Training Reorganizes Large-Scale Brain Networks. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 11, 6. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2017.00006

 

Abstract

Emerging evidences have shown that one form of mental training—mindfulness meditation, can improve attention, emotion regulation and cognitive performance through changing brain activity and structural connectivity. However, whether and how the short-term mindfulness meditation alters large-scale brain networks are not well understood. Here, we applied a novel data-driven technique, the multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) to resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) data to identify changes in brain activity patterns and assess the neural mechanisms induced by a brief mindfulness training—integrative body–mind training (IBMT), which was previously reported in our series of randomized studies. Whole brain rsfMRI was performed on an undergraduate group who received 2 weeks of IBMT with 30 min per session (5 h training in total). Classifiers were trained on measures of functional connectivity in this fMRI data, and they were able to reliably differentiate (with 72% accuracy) patterns of connectivity from before vs. after the IBMT training. After training, an increase in positive functional connections (60 connections) were detected, primarily involving bilateral superior/middle occipital gyrus, bilateral frontale operculum, bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right superior temporal pole, bilateral insula, caudate and cerebellum. These results suggest that brief mental training alters the functional connectivity of large-scale brain networks at rest that may involve a portion of the neural circuitry supporting attention, cognitive and affective processing, awareness and sensory integration and reward processing.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5328965/

 

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

In focused attention meditation, the focus of the mind is placed only on one thing. This implies that you have to stop everything you are doing and designate time for this type of meditation. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, your focus is neutral and receptive to anything that becomes present to you in the moment.” – Mind Body Vortex

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

Two types of meditation are the most commonly used practices for research purposes In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, frequently the breath or a mantra, and learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these stimuli and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. In today’s Research News article “A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/

Telles and colleagues review the published literature (eight studies) on the differences in the effects of focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation.

 

They found quite interesting differences. Focused attention meditation tended to produce greater improvements in attentional ability while open monitoring meditation tended to produce larger changes in the physiology, specifically decreased activity in the sympathetic division and increased activity in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological arousal, including heart rate and blood pressure increases while the parasympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological relaxation, including heart rate and blood pressure reductions.

 

The published research, then, reflects considerable difference in the effects of these two meditation types. It should not be surprising that practicing focusing attention results in improved attentional ability. But, the difficulty in actually focusing attention may be somewhat stressful. Simply allowing whatever arises to come into consciousness, on the other hand may be much more relaxing. The differences in the effects of these meditation techniques suggest that focused attention meditation may be more appropriate for enhancing attention and thought for perhaps the treatment of attention deficit disorder or aging produced reductions in cognition. On the other hand open monitoring meditation may be more appropriate for the treatment of stress related disorders.

 

So, focus in meditation for cognitive effects but open monitor in meditation for physical effects.

 

“Focused attention and open monitoring — these are the two flavors meditation comes in. Mix and match as you like; add whatever extra toppings you desire; you’ll still be left with focused attention and open monitoring. Sure, people claim that it is best — maybe even essential — to concentrate on this or that in order to benefit the most from meditation. Others would have us believe that open awareness/monitoring needs to be done in a certain fashion, which obviously seems to belie the point of being open to whatever.“ – Brian Hines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Telles, S., Singh, N., Gupta, R. K., & Balkrishna, A. (2016). A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 7(4), 255–260. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaim.2016.09.004

 

Abstract

Attention is an important part of the process of meditation. Traditional Yoga texts describe two stages of meditation which follow each other in sequence. These are meditative focusing (dharana in Sanskrit) and effortless meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit). This review evaluated eight experimental studies conducted on participants in normal health, who practiced dharana and dhyana. The studies included evaluation of autonomic and respiratory variables, eLORETA and sLORETA assessments of the EEG, evoked potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging, cancellation task performance and emotional intelligence. The studies differed in their sample size, design and the method of practicing dharana and dhyana. These factors have been detailed. The results revealed differences between dharana and dhyana, which would have been missed if the two stages of meditation had not been studied separately.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/