Mindful People Better Regulate Their Emotions
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“With MM training or practice (even a little practice has been shown to make a difference), we become more able to allow disturbing emotions and thoughts to pass through awareness. We develop the ability to NOT act or react to every emotion or thought we have.” – Timothy Pychyl
Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Dampens Cardiac Responses to Motion Scenes of Violence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866822/ ), Brzozowski and colleagues examine the relationship of mindfulness with the ability of college students to regulate emotional responses to viewing a violent video.
In the first experiment they had the students complete a mindfulness scale and then view a 5-minute violent video. Afterwards they were measured for positive and negative emotions and arousal. They found that students high in mindfulness experienced the film less negatively. In the second experiment the students completed mindfulness and anxiety scales and were measured with and electrocardiogram (ECG) for cardiovascular activity, before, during, and after viewing the 5-minute violent video. They found that students high in mindfulness had lower heart rates before watching the clip, had lower heart rate increases during the clip, and reduced their heart rates to baseline levels faster after the clip.
This is a laboratory correlational study and as such is artificial, not necessarily representative of responses to emotions in everyday contexts. It also limits causal conclusions. In addition, there wasn’t a control comparison condition so it cannot be concluded that the recorded responses were due to watching violence or the reactivity to engaging in a scientific study in a laboratory. Nevertheless, the results suggest that mindful individuals have smaller negative emotional responses and less cardiovascular reactivity to watching a violent video. This suggests that mindfulness improves both psychological and physiological responses to viewing violence. Hence, it appears that mindfulness is associated with improved emotion regulation. It remains for future research to examine causation by actively training mindfulness, having a comparison condition, and making the situation more like real life.
But, it can be tentatively concluded that mindful people better regulate their emotions.
“So rather than getting rid of emotional experience altogether, . . . we can prevent or limit the disruptive aspects of emotions, like rumination. And this can be done by monitoring your thoughts and sensations, but also by adopting a non-judgmental attitude towards them.” – Emily Nauman
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
Brzozowski, A., Gillespie, S. M., Dixon, L., & Mitchell, I. J. (2018). Mindfulness Dampens Cardiac Responses to Motion Scenes of Violence. Mindfulness, 9(2), 575–584. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0799-6
Mindfulness is linked with improved regulatory processes of attention and emotion. The potential benefits of mindfulness are vast, including more positive emotional states and diminished arousal in response to emotional stimuli. This study aims to expand of the current knowledge of the mechanisms of mindfulness by relating the latter to cardiovascular processes. The paper describes two studies which investigated the relationship of trait mindfulness to self-report measures of emotions elicited during a violent video clip and cardiovascular responses to the clip. Both studies recruited male and female participants, mainly university undergraduate students. The clip was 5-min-long and evoked mainly feelings of tension and disgust. In study 1, we found that higher scores for trait mindfulness were associated with increased scores for valence (r = .370, p = .009), indicating a more positive interpretation of the clip. In study 2, the average heart rate during the clip was lower than during the preceding (p < .05) and following (p < .01) non-exposure conditions. Higher trait mindfulness was related to diminished heart rate reactivity (r = −.364, p = .044) and recovery (r = −.415, p = .020). This latter effect was obtained only when trait anxiety was used as a statistical covariate. Additionally, increased trait mindfulness was accompanied by higher resting heart rate (r = .390, p = .027). These outcomes suggest that mindfulness is linked with reductions in negative feelings evoked by violent motion stimuli.