Tamp Down Impulsivity and Aggression in Youth with Mindfulness


“When you are angry, when you feel despair, you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. This energy allows you to recognize and embrace your painful feelings.“ – Thich Nhat Hahn


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


It is a sad fact that late adolescence and young adulthood are dangerous times in life. The body is either fully developed or close to it, but the brain lags behind, especially the frontal areas that inhibit and control basic instincts and reactions. As a result, youth often react aggressively and impulsively without higher level control of these behaviors. This is responsible for some troubling statistics. Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, but they account for 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males. Regarding youth violence and aggression, 46% of males, and 26% of females reported they had been in physical fights, one million U.S. students took guns to school and six thousand were kicked out of school for packing weapons, the annual death toll from school shootings has more than doubled, the youth homicide rate increased by 168 percent, and juvenile arrest for possession of weapons, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder have risen more than 50 percent.


It is important for society to control violent and aggressive behavior and late adolescence and young adulthood are periods when the likelihood is high. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce violence and aggression in adults. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness may be effective in helping to control the aggressive tendencies of youth. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Program for Management of Aggression Among Youth: A Follow-up Study.” See:


or below, Sharma and colleagues investigate this idea. They provided training in mindfulness meditation to youth who were having difficulty controlling aggression. Prior to the training 22% involved themselves in physical violence, 12% also used weapons during aggression, and 14.2% had experienced injuries due to fights. They found that after the training, there were significant decreases in physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, hostility, rumination, and a decrease in urges to smoke, and significant increases in physical and environmental quality of life, well-being, relaxation, and interpersonal interactions.


These results are encouraging that meditation training can help in controlling hostility and aggression in difficult youth. But, without a control comparison condition, the findings have to be viewed cautiously. There is a need for a randomized controlled clinical trial to provide unambiguous evidence that meditation practice can reduce aggressive and impulsive tendencies in youth. It makes sense that mindfulness could do this as it’s been demonstrated that mindfulness training improves executive function and frontal lobe activity which are deficient in youth. The results of this study, although flawed, make a compelling case that further research is warranted.


So, tamp down impulsivity and aggression in youth with mindfulness.


“After 20 years of working with mindfulness I’ve begun to notice that aggression and reactivity still arise.  Yay.  The difference? Practising the practice has given me the little bit of gap I need to see my desire to jump down someone’s throat, before I actually do it.” – Elaine Smookler


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

Sharma, M. K., Sharma, M. P., & Marimuthu, P. (2016). Mindfulness-Based Program for Management of Aggression Among Youth: A Follow-up Study. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 38(3), 213–216. http://doi.org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.4103/0253-7176.183087



Background: Youth have shown indulgence in various high-risk behaviors and violent activities. Yoga-based approaches have been used for the management of psychological problems. The present work explores the role of mindfulness-based program in the management of aggression among youth.

Materials and Methods: Sociodemographic information schedule, Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire, and World Health Organization quality of life were administered on 50 subjects in the age range of 18-25 years at pre- and post-mindfulness-based program level.

Results: It revealed the presence of feeling of well-being and ability to relax themselves; changes in score of anger, hostility, physical, and verbal aggression; and enhancement of quality of life in the physical and environment domains at 1 month follow-up.

Conclusions: Mindfulness-based program has shown changes in aggression expression/control and implies integration of it in available program for the management of aggression among youth.


Lower Physical Aggression with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. Mindfulness is like a big brother who does not suppress his younger brother’s suffering. He simply says, “Dear brother, I’m here for you.” You take your younger brother in your arms and you comfort him.” –  Thich Nhat Hahn


The human tendency to lash out with aggression when threatened was adaptive for the evolution of the species. It helped promote the survival of the individual, the family, and the tribe. In the modern world, however, this trait has become more of a problem than an asset. It results in individual violence and aggression such as physical abuse, fights, road rage, and even murders, and in societal violence such as warfare. It may even be the basis for the horrors of terrorism and mass murder. Obviously there is a need in modern society to control these violent and aggressive urges.


Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce aggression and hostility. This suggests that mindfulness may be an antidote to violent and aggressive urges. So, it would make sense to further investigate the relationship between mindfulness and aggression. In today’s Research News article “Physical Aggression and Mindfulness among College Students: Evidence from China and the United States.” See:


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


Gao and colleagues used psychometric measures of mindfulness and aggression in three samples of freshman college students from the United States and China and investigated the relationships between the students’ trait levels of mindfulness and their aggressive tendencies.


They found a strong negative relationship between mindfulness and aggressiveness such that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of all four types of aggression measured, including hostility, verbal aggressiveness, physical aggressiveness, and anger. This was true for all three samples for both American and Chinese students. In other words, mindfulness was significantly related to low aggressiveness regardless of culture. This relationship may have resulted from the documented ability of mindfulness to improve emotion regulation, including improved control over anger, and fear. By being better able to control their emotions highly mindful people would be less likely to respond to them with aggression.


These results are correlational. There was no manipulation of mindfulness. So, a causal relationship between mindfulness and aggressiveness cannot be concluded. A randomize controlled clinical trial is needed to establish if increasing mindfulness decreases aggressiveness. In addition, the sample were typical college freshman and who are not particularly aggressive groups. It will be important to establish in the future if mindfulness can help control aggression in highly aggressive populations such as violent offenders.


Regardless the results are clear and suggest that aggression can be lowered with mindfulness.


“Anger is always a signal. Mindfulness helps reveal what it signals. Sometimes it is a signal that something in the external world needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is a signal that something is off internally. If nothing else, anger is a signal that someone is suffering. Probably it is you. Sit still in the midst of your anger and find your freedom.”Gil Fronsdal


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

Gao, Y., Shi, L., Smith, K. C., Kingree, J. B., & Thompson, M. (2016). Physical Aggression and Mindfulness among College Students: Evidence from China and the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(5), 480. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13050480



Background: The link between trait mindfulness and several dimensions of aggression (verbal, anger and hostility) has been documented, while the link between physical aggression and trait mindfulness remains less clear. Method: We used two datasets: one United States sample from 300 freshmen males from Clemson University, South Carolina and a Chinese sample of 1516 freshmen students from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Multiple regressions were conducted to examine the association between mindfulness (measured by Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS)) and each of the four subscales of aggression. Results: Among the Clemson sample (N = 286), the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.62, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.37, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.29, p < 0.001; Anger: β = −0.44, p < 0.001. Among the Shanghai male subsample, the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.57, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.37, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.35, p < 0.001; Anger: β = −0.58, p < 0.001. Among the Shanghai female subsample (N = 512), the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.62, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.41, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.52, p < 0.001; and Anger: β = −0.64, p < 0.001. Discussion: Our study documents the negative association between mindfulness and physical aggression in two non-clinical samples. Future studies could explore whether mindfulness training lowers physical aggression among younger adults.


Promote Physical and Mental Well-Being with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Tai Chi exercise had positive effects on the self-assessed physical and mental health of college students. Scores on the mental health dimension appeared to be particularly sensitive to change. Colleges/universities might consider offering Tai Chi as a component of their ongoing physical activity programs available to students.” – Y. T. Wang


Many people have fond memories of their college years. It is likely, however, that they forgot about the stress and angst of those years. The truth is that college is generally very stressful for most students, from the uncertainty of freshman year, to the social stresses of emerging adulthood, to the anxiety of launching into a career after senior year. Evidence for the difficulties of these years can be found in college counseling centers which are swamped with troubled students. In fact, it’s been estimated that half of all college students report significant levels of anxiety and depression.


Being able to perform at an optimum level is important in college. It would be very helpful if a

safe and effective way could be found to reduce stress, depression and anxiety in college students. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression . So, mindfulness training would appear to be well suited to deal with the problems of college students. The ancient eastern practice of mindful movement Tai Chi has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Hence, it would make sense to investigate whether Tai Chi practice might be effective for improving college student angst.


In today’s Research News article “A systematic review of the health benefits of Tai Chi for students in higher education”



Webster and colleagues review the published literature on the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice in improving college student physical and psychological states. They found that that the preponderance of evidence in the literature reported that Tai Chi practice significantly improved muscular flexibility. But the most interesting effects were in the psychological domain with Tai Chi practice significantly reducing depression, anxiety, symptoms of compulsion, somatization symptoms, hostility, and symptoms of phobia, and improved interpersonal sensitivity.


Hence, the published scientific literature suggests that Tai Chi practice can be of significant benefit for college students, improving them physically and improving their psychological well-being. Tai Chi practice is a gentle mindful movement practice. It is safe, having few if any adverse consequences, and effective with college students. This suggests that the engagement in Tai Chi practice should be encouraged in college promoting the physical and mental well-being of the students.



“Of all the exercises, I should say that T’ai Chi is the best. It can ward off disease, banish worry and tension, bring improved physical health and prolong life. It is a good hobby for your whole life, the older you are, the better. It is suitable for everyone – the weak, the sick, the aged, children, the disabled and blind. It is also an economical exercise. As long as one has three square feet of space, one can take a trip to paradise and stay there to enjoy life for thirty minutes without spending a single cent.” ~T.T. Liang


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Antisocial Prisoners Lack Mindfulness


“There are only two kinds of people in this world; those who have a conscience and those who do not.” ― P.A. Speers


Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a problem not only for the individual but also for society. Individuals with this disorder tend to demonstrate a “disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure, intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism, recurring difficulties with the law, repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation, child abuse or neglect, hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence, lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviors, poor or abusive relationships, irresponsible work behavior, and failure to learn from the negative consequences of behavior” (Mayo Clinic).


Needless to say that this disorder is found to be quite prevalent in prison populations. As much as 80% of male and 65% of female prison inmates exhibit signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. But, it is also common in the general population. Around 3.6% of adults in the United States, equal to about 7.6 million people, have antisocial personality disorder affecting about 3% of adult males and 1% of adult females. To make matters worse, APD is very difficult to treat as it frequently does not respond to psychotherapy and there are no drugs that have been approved to treat it.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness moderates the relationship between aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder traits: Preliminary investigation with an offender sample”


Velotti and colleagues investigate the relationship of mindfulness to aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) with 83 imprisoned violent offenders. They verified the positive relationship between APD and aggressive behavior including physical and verbal aggression, anger, and hostility. But they also found a strong and significant negative relationship between APD and the mindfulness facets of describing, acting with awareness, and non-judging. That is high APD was associated with low mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness was negatively related to physical aggression, anger, and hostility. This was particularly true for acting with awareness. In other words, the lower the level of mindfulness, particularly acting with awareness, the greater the levels of aggressive behavior.


It is interesting that the key component of mindfulness that appears to be deficient in individuals with APD is acting with awareness. This facet involves paying attention to one’s current activities. It’s deficiency in APD implies that these individuals are lacking in awareness of what they are doing while they are doing it. In other words, as they are engaged in hostile, aggressive, and even violent activities, they may be acting without conscious thought. Rather they may be responding reflexively to immediate situations and the emotions produced. This further suggests that training to improve real time awareness of actions may be effective in treating APD.
Personality Disorders in general including APD are notoriously resistant to treatment. So, Velotti and colleagues’ findings are potentially important. They suggest that increasing mindfulness may be a way to treat Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Although there have not been controlled clinical trials training individuals with APD in mindfulness, mindfulness training is included in Dialectic Behavior Therapy which has been shown to be helpful with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). There are a number of overlapping characteristics in common to both APD and BPD. So, it is possible that mindfulness training may be important in treating Personality Disorders in general. Obviously more research is needed.


It should be kept in mind that Velotti and colleagues obtained their findings with prisoners who were convicted of violent crimes. It will be important to also study non-violent APD patients to determine the general applicability of the results. Regardless, it appears that at least in violent prisoners, that mindfulness, especially acting with awareness, is a clear deficiency in Antisocial Personality Disorder.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies