Improve Psychological Functioning with Mindfulness

Improve Psychological Functioning with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

” the positive potential benefits of mindfulness practice are more attentional control, more effective emotional regulation, enhanced social relationships, reduced risk for physical ailments, enhanced immune system functioning, and better sleep quality.” – Jason Linder

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.

 

The clustering of these benefits may supply a clue as to how mindfulness training is working to improve mental health. This can be investigated by looking at the interrelationships between the effects of mindfulness training. In today’s Research News article “Does mindfulness change the mind? A novel psychonectome perspective based on Network Analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6638953/), Roca and colleagues apply network analysis to investigate the interrelationships between a large number of effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training.

 

They recruited healthy adult participants in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The MBSR program consisted of 32 hours of training separated into 8 weekly group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The patients were also encouraged to perform daily practice. They were measured before and after MBSR training for meditation experience, and psychological and physical health problems, and 5 categories of mindfulness effects; 1) Mindfulness, including five facets, decentering, non-attachment, and bodily awareness, 2) Compassion, including compassion towards oneself and others and empathy, 3) Psychological well-being, including satisfaction with life, optimism, and overall well-being, 4) Psychological distress, including anxiety, stress, and depression, and 5) Emotional and cognitive control, including emotional regulation, rumination, thought suppression and attentional control.

 

They found that after MBSR training there were significant improvements in effectively all of the five categories. This is not new as much research has demonstrated that mindfulness training produces improvements in mindfulness, compassion, psychological well-being, psychological distress, and emotional and cognitive control.

 

These data were then subjected to network analysis. Prior to MBSR training the network analysis revealed clustering in three paths “mindfulness and self-compassion; clinical symptoms and rumination; and most of FFMQ mindfulness components with attentional control measure.” After MBSR training, however, there was a network reorganization such that the three paths disappeared and were replaced by two paths, psychopathological and adaptive.

 

Centrality measures in the network analysis indicated that both prior to and after MBSR training the most central, fundamental, and interrelated components were all facets of mindfulness and all well-being measures. In addition, Community Analysis revealed that mindfulness, compassion, and emotional regulation were the most highly associated components.

 

The results are complex but suggest that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training reorganizes the associations of psychological variables, simplifying them into two categories representing distress and adaptation. The training may help the individual see the interrelationships of the problems they have and the solutions employed. The results further suggest, not surprisingly, that mindfulness, compassion, and emotion regulation are central to the benefits of mindfulness training. Many other benefits flow from these.

 

So, improve psychological functioning with mindfulness.

 

“Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction . . . Participants experienced significant decreases in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.” – Carolyn McManus

 

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

 

Roca, P., Diez, G. G., Castellanos, N., & Vazquez, C. (2019). Does mindfulness change the mind? A novel psychonectome perspective based on Network Analysis. PloS one, 14(7), e0219793. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219793

 

Abstract

If the brain is a complex network of functionally specialized areas, it might be expected that mental representations could also behave in a similar way. We propose the concept of ‘psychonectome’ to formalize the idea of psychological constructs forming a dynamic network of mutually dependent elements. As a proof-of-concept of the psychonectome, networks analysis (NA) was used to explore structural changes in the network of constructs resulting from a psychological intervention. NA was applied to explore the effects of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in healthy participants (N = 182). Psychological functioning was measured by questionnaires assessing five key domains related to MBSR: mindfulness, compassion, psychological well-being, psychological distress and emotional-cognitive control. A total of 25 variables, covering the five constructs, were considered as nodes in the NA. Participants significantly improved in most of the psychological questionnaires. More interesting from a network perspective, there were also significant changes in the topological relationships among the elements. Expected influence and strength centrality indexes revealed that mindfulness and well-being measures were the most central nodes in the networks. The nodes with highest topological change after the MBSR were attentional control, compassion measures, depression and thought suppression. Also, cognitive appraisal, an adaptive emotion regulation strategy, was associated to rumination before the MBSR program but became related to mindfulness and well-being measures after the program. Community analysis revealed a strong topological association between mindfulness, compassion, and emotional regulation, which supports the key role of compassion in mindfulness training. These results highlight the importance of exploring psychological changes from a network perspective and support the conceptual advantage of considering the interconnectedness of psychological constructs in terms of a ‘psychonectome’ as it may reveal ways of functioning that cannot be analyzed through conventional analytic methods.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6638953/

 

Improve Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors with Meditation

Improve Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“From the philosophical and religious traditions from which mindfulness comes, it’s been long understood that practicing meditation, and cultivating mindfulness, in particular, can conduce to virtuous action.” – Daniel Berry

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial emotions such as compassion, and empathy and prosocial behaviors such as altruism. These changes in turn reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. The research findings on the effectiveness of meditation practice in developing prosocial attitudes and behaviors is accumulating. So, it makes sense to take a step back and summarize what’s been learned.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6081743/), Luberto and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis on the effects of meditation practice on procociality; “empathy, compassion, sympathy, love, altruism, and kindness.” They discovered 26 studies, 22 examined adults while 4 examined children.

 

They report that the published studies found that meditation practices produced significant increases in empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors. Mediation analyses suggest that meditation practice improves social-emotional functioning that in turn improves prosocial behaviors. It also suggests that this is in part due to meditation practice producing a physical and psychological relaxation response that counters stress effects. Regardless the published research literature makes it clear that meditation practice improves social emotions and behaviors. This may lead to a smoother and more effectively functioning society and to greater social cohesion and happiness.

 

So, improve empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors with meditation.

 

“the research shows that mindfulness increases empathy and compassion for others and for oneself, and that such attitudes are good for you.” – Shauna Shapiro

 

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

 

Luberto, C. M., Shinday, N., Song, R., Philpotts, L. L., Park, E. R., Fricchione, G. L., & Yeh, G. Y. (2018). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors. Mindfulness, 9(3), 708–724. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0841-8

 

Abstract

Increased attention has focused on methods to increase empathy, compassion, and pro-social behavior. Meditation practices have traditionally been used to cultivate pro-social outcomes, and recently investigations have sought to evaluate their efficacy for these outcomes. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of meditation for pro-social emotions and behavior. A literature search was conducted in PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Embase, and Cochrane databases (inception-April 2016) using the search terms: mindfulness, meditation, mind-body therapies, tai chi, yoga, MBSR, MBCT, empathy, compassion, love, altruism, sympathy, or kindness. Randomized controlled trials in any population were included (26 studies with 1,714 subjects). Most were conducted among healthy adults (n=11) using compassion or loving kindness meditation (n=18) over 8–12weeks (n=12) in a group format (n=17). Most control groups were wait-list or no-treatment (n=15). Outcome measures included self-reported emotions (e.g., composite scores, validated measures) and observed behavioral outcomes (e.g., helping behavior in real-world and simulated settings). Many studies showed a low risk of bias. Results demonstrated small to medium effects of meditation on self-reported (SMD = .40, p < .001) and observable outcomes (SMD = .45, p < .001) and suggest psychosocial and neurophysiological mechanisms of action. Subgroup analyses also supported small to medium effects of meditation even when compared to active control groups. Clinicians and meditation teachers should be aware that meditation can improve positive pro-social emotions and behaviors.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6081743/

 

Improve Relationships with the Self and Others with Yoga Practice

Improve Relationships with the Self and Others with Yoga Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Cultivating mindfulness can help you face the inevitable difficulties and disappointments that arise in relationship with equanimity, compassion, and loving-kindness.” – Phillip Moffit

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Mindfulness has been found to improve relationships with others.

 

It is not only important to develop relationships with others but to also develop relationship with the self. There is a widespread problem in the West that many people don’t seem to like themselves. The antidote to self-dislike is self-compassion. Self-compassion is “treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering, seeing one’s failures as part of the human condition, and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions” – Kristin Neff.  Unfortunately, there has been little systematic research of the effectiveness of yoga practice in developing relationships with the self and others.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Daily Influences of Yoga on Relational Outcomes Off of the Mat.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521757/), Kishida and colleagues recruited adult yoga practitioners. They had the participants report their yoga practice characteristics and then maintained an online 21-day diary of yoga practice, mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion, social connectedness, psychological health, and physical health.

 

They found that across days that the higher the level of mindfulness the higher the level of psychological health, self-compassion, compassion, and social connectedness. They also found that the greater the amount of yoga practice the higher the level of mindfulness and self-compassion. A mediation analysis revealed that yoga practice was associated with greater compassion and social connectedness in part directly and in part through its relationship with mindfulness, where yoga practice was associated with greater mindfulness which in turn was associated with greater compassion and social connectedness. In addition, daily yoga practice was associated with compassion both directly and indirectly through its relationship with self-compassion, where yoga practice was associated with greater self-compassion which in turn was associated with greater compassion.

 

This is a correlational study, so causation cannot be concluded, But previous studies have clearly shown that mindfulness practices such as yoga produce improvements in psychological health, self-compassion, compassion, and social connectedness. So, it is likely that yoga practice was the cause of the benefits reported in the present study.

 

Yoga is a mindfulness practice. The results suggest that yoga practice produces direct benefits for the psychological and social well-being of the practitioner in a direct manner. But the results also suggest that yoga practice improves mindfulness which in turn improves the practitioners psychological and social well-being. So, yoga practice by improving mindfulness produces benefits and yoga practice by itself also has its own benefits. These results suggest that practicing yoga make an individual happier with themselves and better able to engage with others.

 

So, improve relationships with the self and others with yoga practice.

 

“In the same way as yoga requires knowledge and skills for the perfection of the practice, relationships require relational skills in order for them to grow and unfold over time.” – Joel Feldman

 

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

 

Kishida, M., Mogle, J., & Elavsky, S. (2019). The Daily Influences of Yoga on Relational Outcomes Off of the Mat. International journal of yoga, 12(2), 103–113. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_46_18

 

Abstract

Background:

Despite the wide array of health benefits that have been evidenced with yoga, a clear gap exists examining how yoga impacts connections with oneself and to others.

Aims:

The objectives of the present study were twofold: (1) to describe the day-to-day (in)variability in daily yoga practice and relational outcomes and (2) to examine the direct and indirect effects of yoga practice on relational outcomes.

Methods:

Community-dwelling yoga practitioners (n = 104, age range: 18–76 years) with a yoga practice of at least once a week were recruited for a 21-day daily diary study. Practitioners were asked to complete daily Internet surveys at the end of the day which included questions with respect to one’s yoga practice and relational domains (i.e., mindfulness, [self-]compassion, and social connectedness).

Results:

Multilevel analyses revealed yoga and relational outcomes to be dynamic phenomena, indicated by substantial variation (intraclass correlations = 0.34–0.48) at the within-person level. On days when an individual practiced more yoga than their usual, greater mindfulness (b = 2.93, standard error [SE] = 0.39, P < 0.05) and self-compassion (b = 1.45, SE = 0.46, P < 0.05) were also reported. 1-1-1 multilevel mediation models demonstrated that yoga has an indirect effect on both compassion and social connectedness through increases in mindfulness at the within- and between-person levels. In models testing self-compassion as the mediator, the indirect effect of daily yoga practice on compassion was significant, although limited to the within-person level.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that a routine yoga practice could positively impact how a practitioner relates to theirselves and to others, both on a day-to-day basis, and with accumulated practice.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521757/

 

Heighten Mental and Physical Well-Being with Mindfulness Training

Heighten Mental and Physical Well-Being with Mindfulness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others. If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, , improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” – Harvard Health

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Techniques such as Mindfulness Training, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Yoga practice and Tai Chi or Qigong practice have been demonstrated to be effective. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.

 

This research suggests that engaging in mindfulness practices can make you a better human being, with greater mental and physical well-being. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Training: Can It Create Superheroes?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00613/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Jones and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the effects of mindfulness training on psychological and physical well-being.

 

They found that the published research presented substantial findings that mindfulness training enhanced physical functioning including improved health, decreased heart rate, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood cortisol and resistance to disease, including improved stress responding, increased immune system response, and decreased inflammatory responses. They also report the mindfulness training produces tended to protect against the mental and physical effects of aging, including reduced cognitive decline and reduced brain deterioration. In addition, they report that mindfulness training produces improved cognitive processing, including improved heightened attentional ability, improved neural processing, and alterations of brain systems underlying consciousness. Mindfulness training also produced greater resilience and fearlessness, including improved emotion regulation, reduced responding to negative stimuli, lower pain responding, and lower fear conditioning. Mindfulness training also produced more self-less and pro-social behaviors, including increased altruism, increased kindness, and compassion. Finally, they report that mindfulness training can produce some control over autonomic responses.

 

This review suggests that people who engage in mindfulness training become superior in mental and physical health to non-practitioners and have superior cognitive abilities particularly in regard to attention and higher-level thinking. This doesn’t exactly make them “superheroes” but rather better versions of themselves.

 

So, heighten mental and physical well-being with mindfulness training.

 

Ultimately, engaging in mindfulness meditation cultivates our ability to both focus and broaden our attention, which is a practical way to elicit psychological well-being.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

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

 

Jones P (2019) Mindfulness Training: Can It Create Superheroes? Front. Psychol. 10:613. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00613

 

With the emergence of the science of heroism there now exists both theoretical and empirical literature on the characteristics of our everyday hero. We seek to expand this inquiry and ask what could be the causes and conditions of a superhero. To address this we investigate the origins of mindfulness, Buddhist psychology and the assertion that its practitioners who have attained expertise in mindfulness practices can develop supernormal capabilities. Examining first their foundational eight “jhana” states (levels of attention) and the six consequent “abhinnas” (siddhis or special abilities) that arise from such mental mastery, we then explore any evidence that mindfulness practices have unfolded the supernormal potential of its practitioners. We found a growing base of empirical literature suggesting some practitioners exhibit indicators of enhanced functioning including elevated physical health and resistance to disease, increased immunity to aging and improved cognitive processing, greater resilience and fearlessness, more self-less and pro-social behaviors, some control over normally autonomic responses, and possibly some paranormal functionality. These improvements in normal human functioning provide some evidence that there are practices that develop these abilities, and as such we might want to consider adopting them to develop this capability. There are however insufficient studies of expert meditators and more research of adepts is called for that explores the relationship between levels of attentional skill and increases in functionality. We propose in search of the superhero, that if conventional mindfulness training can already augment mental and physical capabilities, a more serious inquiry and translation of its advanced methods into mainstream psychological theory is warranted.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00613/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A

Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

Can Prosocial Behavior be Improved with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“meditation made people feel moderately more compassionate or empathic, compared to if they had done no other new emotionally-engaging activity. But further analysis revealed that it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.” – James Anderson

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial behaviors such as altruism, compassion and empathy and reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. In today’s Research News article “The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/ ), Kreplin and colleagues review, summarize and perform a meta-analysis of the published research literature on the effectiveness of meditation practice for the promotion of prosocial behaviors. They reviewed randomized controlled trials that examined meditation or mindfulness effects on “empathy, relationship, connectedness, compassion, love, interpersonal, anger, social, altruism, outgroup, thankfulness, forgiveness, prosocial.”

 

They found 16 published randomized controlled trials. The meta-analysis indicated that there were overall small but significant effects of meditation or mindfulness training on prosocial behavior, especially compassion and empathy. There were no significant effects on aggression or prejudice. These results suggest that meditation or mindfulness training has small but positive effects on prosocial but not antisocial behaviors.

 

Limiting the interpretation of the findings, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the trainer for meditation or mindfulness was a listed author on the study. This raises the possibility that experimenter bias may have had a major influence such that the beliefs of the researcher that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. In addition, they found that the effects on compassion were only present when the control, comparison, condition was passive, such as a wait-list or no-treatment control, with no significant effects when an active, alternative treatment, control condition was included. This raises the possibility that participant expectancies may have had major influences such that the beliefs of the participants that the training would be effective influenced the participants behaviors. Hence, the small positive results on prosocial behaviors may have been due to weaknesses in the research designs of the studies rather than to the effects of meditation and mindfulness training.

 

These results are important in that they point to issues with the research design that may have been responsible for significant effects. This calls into question the actual effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness training on prosocial behavior. Obviously, more tightly controlled research is necessary to determine if meditation and mindfulness training can be used to improve positive social behaviors.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

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

 

Kreplin, U., Farias, M., & Brazil, I. A. (2018). The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 8, 2403. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z

 

Abstract

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5799363/

 

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in.“ – Patricia Rockman

 

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.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In “Presence” meditation, also known as focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. “Perspective” meditation is another different method of cultivating mindfulness. 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 thoughts and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention. A third “Affect” meditation technique, e.g. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/ ), the effects of the various meditation techniques on mindfulness and compassion were compared. Hildebrandt and colleagues recruited healthy adults without meditation experience and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions; the first practiced “Presence”, “Affect”, and “Perspective” conditions in counterbalanced order, while the second constituted a retest control. The conditions were practiced daily at home for 13 weeks and involved a weekly 2-hour training session. In the “Presence” condition the participants practiced as focused attention meditation and body scan meditation In the “Affect” condition the participants practiced Loving Kindness Meditation and engaged in affect dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day something that they were grateful for, In the “Perspective” condition the participants practiced observing thoughts meditation and engaged in perspective dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day “a situation from the perspective of one of one’s own inner parts.”  The retest control participants were matched on mindfulness with the practice participants. All participants were measured before and after each condition for mindfulness, compassion, fear of compassion, and self-compassion.

 

They found that, compared to the retest control condition all three meditation conditions led to increased mindfulness presence, observing, and non-reacting, but only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions produced significant increases in the mindfulness non-judging, accepting, and compassion scales. The “Affect” condition produced additional significant increases in the compassion scales. Hence, different mindfulness practices produced different patterns of change in mindfulness and compassion.

 

Practicing focused meditation appears to improve present moment awareness and the ability to not react to its contents. Practicing observing thoughts appeared to not only improve these mindfulness components but also improved the ability to accept and not judge what is occurring. On the other hand, practicing Loving Kindness Meditation appears to improve all of these mindfulness components and in addition improve compassion. Hence, it appears that “Affect” meditation may be a superior technique for promoting both mindfulness and compassion.

 

These results are surprising as focused attention meditation has long been the most commonly taught practice, yet it was the least effective. It should be mentioned, however, that the present study was unusual in including dyadic discussions in only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions and not the “Presence” condition. These dyadic discussions may have been crucial in producing the enhanced effectiveness’ of these practices. It remains for future research to investigate this possibility.

 

This study is an important beginning in documenting the different effects of different meditation techniques. This may lead to better application of meditation tailored for the specific needs of the individual, leading to improved health and well-being.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

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

 

Hildebrandt, L. K., McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2017). Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1488–1512. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0716-z

 

Abstract

Research on the effects of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions is flourishing along with self-report scales to assess facets of these broad concepts. However, debates remain as to which mental practices are most appropriate to develop the attentional, cognitive, and socio-affective facets of mindfulness and compassion. One crucial question is whether present-moment, attention-focused mindfulness practices are sufficient to induce a cascade of changes across the different proposed facets of mindfulness, including nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as compassion or whether explicit socio-affective training is required. Here, we address these questions in the context of a 9-month longitudinal study (the ReSource Project) by examining the differential effects of three different 3-month mental training modules on subscales of mindfulness and compassion questionnaires. The “Presence” module, which aimed at cultivating present-moment-focused attention and body awareness, led to increases in the observing, nonreacting, and presence subscales, but not to increases in acceptance or nonjudging. These latter facets benefitted from specific cultivation through the socio-cognitive “Perspective” module and socio-affective, compassion-based “Affect” module, respectively. These modules also led to further increases in scores on the subscales affected by the Presence module. Moreover, scores on the compassion scales were uniquely influenced by the Affect module. Thus, whereas a present-moment attention-focused training, as implemented in many mindfulness-based programs, was indeed able to increase attentional facets of mindfulness, only socio-cognitive and compassion-based practices led to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

Improve Self-Compassion with Loving Kindness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.” – Emma Seppala

 

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. One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention. In today’s Research News article “Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below). Weibel and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to a wait-list control condition or to practice Loving Kindness Meditation at 4 weekly, 90 minute sessions and were encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before and after the 4-week training period and 8 weeks later for anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion.

 

They found that following treatment, in comparison to the wait-list control participants, the Loving Kindness Meditation participants demonstrated significant increases in compassionate love, and self-compassion, including the self-kindness and common humanity subscales. At the 8-week follow-up, only the self-kindness subscale remained significant. Hence, the practice of Loving Kindness Meditation was found to enhance compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

These are disappointing results. Loving Kindness Meditation is a practice of directing compassion and kindness toward the self and others. So, these results only show that practicing compassion and kindness produces compassion and kindness. The failure to show any effects on anxiety suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation may not have effects beyond what it is designed to target.

 

There are a number of studies that show significant effects for Loving Kindness Meditation on a wide variety of physical and psychological issues. So, it would appear likely that the lack of effectiveness seen in the current study was due to the particular characteristics of this study. Perhaps, the brief, 4-week, duration of the practice was insufficient. Perhaps, other psychological characteristics than anxiety needed to be measured. Perhaps college students are not an appropriate group for Loving Kindness Meditation. Perhaps, placebo effects accounted for the differences in compassion and kindness. Regardless, it is clear that the current study does not demonstrate significant effects of Loving Kindness Meditation beyond what it practices; compassion and kindness toward the self.

 

“More than just a feel-good practice, compassion meditation leads to improved mood, more altruistic behavior, less anger, reduced stress and decreased maladaptive mind wandering, according to recent research.” – Stacey Colino

 

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

 

Weibel, D.T., McClintock, A.S. & Anderson, T. Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 565. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0630-9

 

Abstract

Although loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has shown some promise as a psychological intervention, little is known about the effectiveness of LKM for reducing one of the most prevalent mental health problems: anxiety. To build knowledge in this area, we conducted a randomized controlled trial, assigning non-clinical undergraduates to either a four-session, group-based LKM intervention (n = 38) or a waitlist control (n = 33). Self-reported anxiety, compassionate love, and self-compassion were assessed at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 8-week follow-up. Relative to control participants, participants in the LKM intervention reported higher compassionate love and self-compassion at posttreatment and higher self-kindness (a component of self-compassion) at follow-up. Anxiety ratings did not significantly differ between conditions at posttreatment or follow-up. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Improve Seeing Others as Like the Self with Loving Kindness Meditation

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. . . . this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. . . . it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.”” – Christine Carter

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of the factors that lead to and improve empathy and compassion. One method that appears to be able to increase these capacities is Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It has been shown to amplify positive emotions, altruism, and compassion. This suggests that LKM may reduce the perceived difference between the self and other people. This is difficult to study, however, as these capacities are not easily measured and require length, indirect, paper and pencil, tests for assessment.

 

An alternative assessment technique is to measure the electrical response of the brain (electroencephalogram, EEG) as an indicator of empathy and compassion. This can be done by investigating differences in the brains processing of stimuli related to the self, relative to those related to other people. Upon presentation of these stimuli differences in the brain’s response can be seen called the evoked potential (ERP). The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) occurs between 3 to 6-tenths of a second following the stimulus presentation. It is a positive change that is maximally measured over the central frontal lobe. The P300 response has been associated with self-processing. It is larger in response to stimuli such as one’s own name, face, or information about the person’s history. So, the P300 response is often used as a measure of the processing of information about the self, with the larger the positive change the greater the self-processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1441662135857708/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

Trautwein and colleagues employ the P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) in response to pictures of the self or a close friend to investigate the effectiveness of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve empathy and compassion in humans. They recruited adult long-term practitioners of LKM and a group of age, gender, handedness, and education matched non-meditators. The participants were asked to press a button every time a picture of either themselves of their friend was presented amid a series of other stimuli. This occurred on 20% of the time. They measured performed this task while wearing scalp electrodes to measure the EEG and the P300 response to these stimuli was recorded.

 

They found that, as expected, the LKM practitioners reported experiencing more compassionate love for strangers and all of humanity than control participants. They also found that, as expected, the P300 response in the parietal lobe of the brain was greater to the picture of the self than the friend. As a measure of the degree to which the participant viewed the self and other as similar, they measured the difference in the ERP response to the self vs. friend picture. They found that the smaller the difference between the self vs. friend P300 response the greater the levels of self-reported compassion. Importantly, they also found that the greater the amount of LKM practice the smaller the difference in the P300 response to self and friend.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) improves empathy and compassion by altering the brain’s response to self vs. others. In this way, individuals perceive other people as more like themselves, making them more compassionate and empathetic. It should be noted, however, that there was not a comparison group of meditators who did not practice LKM. So, it cannot be concluded that the effects were due to LKM practice specifically. It could be that any form of meditation practice would have similar effects. But, it is clear that meditation alters the brain’s response to self vs. others.

 

So, improve seeing others as like the self with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.”  – Barbara Fredrickson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, José Raúl Naranjo, and Stefan Schmidt Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation. Front. Psychol., 21 November 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785

 

Research in social neuroscience provides increasing evidence that self and other are interconnected, both on a conceptual and on an affective representational level. Moreover, the ability to recognize the other as “like the self” is thought to be essential for social phenomena like empathy and compassion. Meditation practices such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) have been found to enhance these capacities. Therefore, we investigated whether LKM is associated to an increased integration of self–other-representations. As an indicator, we assessed the P300 event-related potential elicited by oddball stimuli of the self-face and a close other’s face in 12 long-term practitioners of LKM and 12 matched controls. In line with previous studies, the self elicited larger P300 amplitudes than close other. This effect was reduced in the meditation sample at parietal but not frontal midline sites. Within this group, smaller differences between self- and other-related P300 were associated with increasing meditation practice. Across groups, smaller P300 differences correlated with self-reported compassion. In meditators, we also investigated the effect of a short LKM compared to a control priming procedure in order to test whether the state induction would additionally modulate self- vs. other-related P300. However, no effect of the priming conditions was observed. Overall, our findings provide preliminary evidence that prolonged meditation practice may modulate self- vs. other-related processing, accompanied by an increase in compassion. Further evidence is needed, however, to show if this is a direct outcome of loving-kindness meditation.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

 

Build Altruism with Compassion Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry. Uncomfortable if every child isn’t loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive. Uncomfortable when as a community we don’t treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated.” ~ Karen Armstrong

 

Homo Sapiens is a very successful species. In part its success has been due to it being a very social species. Members of the species form groups beyond the family unit and work together for the common good. Members also take care of one another. Individuals will sometimes sacrifice their own well-being and safety to help another. This is termed altruistic behavior. The fact that it sometimes actually reduces the likelihood of the individual’s survival appears to be a contradiction to the ideas of evolution that emphasize individual survival.

 

Altruistic behavior, however, is not rare. It is, in fact, often the rule and not the exception. Soldiers put their own lives at risk to save a buddy. Doctors and nurses risking infection, rush into ebola riddled villages to treat the sick and dying. Young adults leave their jobs and careers to tend to an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s Disease. These are rather extreme examples but altruistic behavior occurs in many simple ways on a daily basis. We routinely give to charities which benefit people on the other side of the world. We donate our time as volunteers to build houses for the disadvantaged. We roll down our car windows and hand money to a homeless person on a street corner. The list is endless.

 

So, why do we engage so freely in this behavior that contradicts evolutionary theory? One idea is that it is promoted by our compassion. This is our ability to identify with the difficulties of others, put ourselves in their shoes, and feel their suffering. Although reasonable and logical this interpretation needs scientific confirmation. A callous interpretation of this behavior is that this compassion makes us uncomfortable, makes us suffer, and we do things to reduce our own suffering and make ourselves feel better. A kinder interpretation is that we have been taught to be compassionate and this energizes altruism. This notion would predict that engaging in practices that develop compassion would increase altruism. This idea, however, needs scientific testing and evaluation.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1208766975813893/?type=3&theater

Or see below, or for full text see

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675554/

Weng and colleagues examine the relationship of compassion to altruism in the laboratory and test the effectiveness of a compassion amplifying practice on the likelihood of compassionate behaviors. They first measured the empathetic concern of the participants with a paper and pencil test and then had them play in the laboratory a 3-person game developed to measure altruistic behaviors, either altruistic helping, in which the participant gave to another thereby reducing their own reward, or altruistic punishment where participants took away from another resulting in an overall reduction in their own reward. They found that the higher the level of trait compassion (empathetic concern) that the participant had the more they tended to help another to their own detriment. They also found that the higher the level of trait compassion the less they tended to punish another to their own detriment.

 

In a second experiment, Weng and colleagues randomly assigned participants to either a compassion meditation group or to a reappraisal group. They were then trained for two weeks either to meditate on the suffering of others, wish them well, and visualize compassion emanating from their heart, or to a control condition involving training on reappraising situations to lower stress and emotional reactions to stress. The participants then came to the laboratory and played the 3-person altruism game. They found that the compassion meditation group provided altruistic help significantly more than the reappraisal group. In fact, they spent 87% more money to help others.

 

This experiment, although somewhat artificial, suggests that compassion is highly related to altruism and that training in compassion increases altruism. Hence, these results support the notion that altruism occurs because of trained compassion. It also shows that altruism can be encouraged and amplified with compassion training. So, we can create more compassionate people and thereby a more altruistic world by specifically educating people in compassion.

 

So, build altruism with compassion meditation.

 

“Compassion is natural; you don’t have to force it; just open to the difficulty, the struggle, the stress, the impact of events, the sorrow and strain in the other person; open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through you. Feel what compassion’s like in your body — in your chest, throat, and face. Sense the way it softens your thoughts, gentles your reactions. Know it so you can find your way back again.” – Rick Hanson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

Study Summary

Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Hessenthaler, H. C., Stodola, D. E., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior. PLoS ONE, 10(12), e0143794. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143794

 

Abstract

Compassion, the emotional response of caring for another who is suffering and that results in motivation to relieve suffering, is thought to be an emotional antecedent to altruistic behavior. However, it remains unclear whether compassion enhances altruistic behavior in a uniform way or is specific to sub-types of behavior such as altruistic helping of a victim or altruistic punishment of a transgressor. We investigated the relationship between compassion and subtypes of altruistic behavior using third-party paradigms where participants 1) witnessed an unfair economic exchange between a transgressor and a victim, and 2) had the opportunity to either spend personal funds to either economically a) help the victim or b) punish the transgressor. In Study 1, we examined whether individual differences in self-reported empathic concern (the emotional component of compassion) was associated with greater altruistic helping or punishment behavior in two independent samples. For participants who witnessed an unfair transaction, trait empathic concern was associated with greater helping of a victim and had no relationship to punishment. However, in those who decided to punish the transgressor, participants who reported greater empathic concern decided to punish less. In Study 2, we directly enhanced compassion using short-term online compassion meditation training to examine whether altruistic helping and punishment were increased after two weeks of training. Compared to an active reappraisal training control group, the compassion training group gave more to help the victim and did not differ in punishment of the transgressor. Together, these two studies suggest that compassion is related to greater altruistic helping of victims and is not associated with or may mitigate altruistic punishment of transgressors.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675554/