Improve Health Message Effectiveness with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Individuals may benefit from cultivating mindful attention when processing potentially threatening yet beneficial health information. It’s possible that incorporating mindfulness cultivation into existing intervention strategies can promote more widespread positive health behavior.” – Yoona Kang
Health professionals know that lifestyle is a major contributor to health and alternatively disease. In an attempt to help alter lifestyles to promote health a frequent tactic is education; promoting positive behaviors with health messaging. Unfortunately, health messages are often met with defensiveness. They can be threatening and or induce shame in the targeted individual and thereby become counterproductive. So, it is important to develop methodologies to make health messaging less negative and more effective.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the emotional responding to a myriad of stimuli. It is therefore possible that mindfulness may improve the effectiveness of health messages. In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5363856/ ), Kang and colleagues examine the ability of mindfulness to improve the ability of health messages to promote physical exercise.
They recruited relatively inactive healthy adults who came to the laboratory on three occasions. In the first visit they were measured for body size, mindfulness, exercise motivation, physical activity, and depression. For the next week they wore an accelerometer to measure their physical activity and reported to the laboratory for their second visit. At this visit they received a health message regarding the negative health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, the benefits of exercise and ideas on how to incorporate exercise into their lives. They were also measured for positive and negative affect and exercise motivation. Over the next month they continued to wear the accelerometer and received daily health messages by text. They then reported to the lab for their third visit where they turned in their accelerometers and completed self-report measures of exercise motivation and physical activity.
They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness that the participants had, the lower the levels of negative emotions and feelings of shame. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness at the beginning of the study, the greater the levels of exercise motivation after the health messaging. They then investigated mediation for the effects of mindfulness on the effectiveness of the health messaging on exercise motivation after the month and found that mindfulness was associated with increased exercise motivation directly and indirectly by being associated with decreased negative emotions which, in turn were associated with reduced exercise motivation. In addition, they found that mindfulness was associated with increased exercise motivation directly and indirectly by being associated with decreased shame which in turn were associated with reduced exercise motivation. So, the effectiveness of the health messaging in increasing the participants motivation to engage in exercise was to some extent dependent upon their levels of mindfulness. Mindfulness appeared to work directly on exercise motivation and indirectly by reducing negative emotions and shame which were deterrents to being receptive to the messaging.
It should be kept in mind that this study was correlational, so causation cannot be determined. In addition, there wasn’t a no-health-messaging control condition, so the effects of potential bias and contaminants cannot be assessed. But, this study suggests that further research using more controlled conditions and manipulation of mindfulness with training is warranted. In order to make health messages effective in changing behavior, it may be necessary to combine the messaging with mindfulness exercises.
So, improve health message effectiveness with mindfulness.
“When you aren’t focused on what you’re doing, you may lose that sense of satisfaction for a job well done and, not only that, your workouts may not be as effective. Think about it; when you’re in a rush to be done, how careful are you with your form? If you added more focus to your workouts, more mindfulness to your exercises, you might get more out of them than you think.” – Paige Wehner
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
Kang, Y., O’Donnell, M. B., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2017). Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation. Mindfulness, 8(2), 387–397. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0608-7
Feelings can shape how people respond to persuasive messages. In health communication, adaptive affective responses to potentially threating messages constitute one key to intervention success. The current study tested dispositional mindfulness, characterized by awareness of the present moment, as a predictor of adaptive affective responses to potentially threatening health messages and desirable subsequent health outcomes. Both general and discrete negative affective states (i.e., shame) were examined in relation to mindfulness and intervention success. Individuals (n=67) who reported less than 195 weekly minutes of exercise were recruited. At baseline, participants’ dispositional mindfulness and exercise outcomes were assessed, including self-reported exercise motivation and physical activity. A week later, all participants were presented with potentially threatening and self-relevant health messages encouraging physical activity and discouraging sedentary lifestyle, and their subsequent affective response and exercise motivation were assessed. Approximately one month later, changes in exercise motivation and physical activity were assessed again. In addition, participants’ level of daily physical activity was monitored by a wrist worn accelerometer throughout the entire duration of the study. Higher dispositional mindfulness predicted greater increases in exercise motivation one month after the intervention. Importantly, this effect was fully mediated by lower negative affect and shame specifically, in response to potentially threatening health messages among highly mindful individuals. Baseline mindfulness was also associated with increased self-reported vigorous activity, but not with daily physical activity as assessed by accelerometers. These findings suggest potential benefits of considering mindfulness as an active individual difference variable in theories of affective processing and health communication.