Several definitions of mindfulness have been used in modern psychology. According to various prominent psychological definitions, Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves
- bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis,
- paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,
- a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is
Bishop, Lau, and colleagues (2004) offered a two component model of mindfulness:
The first component [of mindfulness] involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.:232
In this two-component model, self-regulated attention (the first component) involves conscious awareness of one's current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, which can result in metacognitive skills for controlling concentration.
Over the past 30 years there has been an increase in the number of published studies on mindfulness. The current body of scientific literature on the effects of mindfulness practices is promising despite the presence of methodological weaknesses.
The current research does suggest that mindfulness practices are useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, disordered eating, and addiction, among others.
Mindfulness has been investigated for its potential benefit for individuals who do not experience these disorders, as well, with positive results. Mindfulness practice improves the immune system and alters activation symmetries in the prefrontal cortex, a change previously associated with an increase in positive affect and a faster recovery from a negative experience.
Mindfulness is often used synonymously with the traditional Buddhist processes of cultivating awareness as described above, but more recently has been studied as a psychological tool capable of stress reduction and the elevation of several positive emotions or traits.
In this relatively new field of western psychological mindfulness, researchers attempt to define and measure the results of mindfulness primarily through controlled, randomised studies of mindfulness intervention on various dependent variables.
Human response to stressors in the environment produces emotional and physiological changes in individual human bodies in order to cope with that stress. This process most likely evolved to help us attend to immediate concerns in our environment to better our chances of survival, but in modern society, much of the stress felt is not beneficial in this way. Stress has been shown to have several negative effects on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing (see stress (biology)). One field of psychological inquiry into mindfulness is Mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR. Several studies have produced relevant findings:
- Jain and Shapiro (2007) conducted a study to show that mindfulness meditation may be specific in its ability to “reduce distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviours”, which may provide a “unique mechanism by which mindfulness meditation reduces distress”.
- Arch (2006) found emotional regulation following focused breathing. A breathing group provided moderately positive responses to emotionally neutral visual slides, while "unfocused attention and worry" groups both responded significantly more negatively to neutral slides.
- Brown (2003) found declines in mood disturbance and stress following mindfulness interventions.
- Jha (2010) found that a sufficient meditation training practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
- Garland (2009) found declines in stress after mindfulness interventions, which are potentially due to the positive re-appraisals of what were at first appraised as stressors.
Elevation of positive emotions and outcomes
While much research centered on mindfulness seeks to reduce stress, another large body of research has examined mindfulness as a tool to elevate and sustain "positive" emotional states as well and their related outcomes:
- Fredrickson (2008) studied the building of personal resources through increased daily experiences of positive emotions due to meditation. She found that meditation practice showed increases over time in purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
- Davidson (2003) found that mindfulness meditation increased brain and immune function in positive ways, but highlighted the need for additional research.
- Brown (2009) investigated subjective well-being and financial desire. He found that a large discrepancy between financial desires and financial reality correlated with low subjective well-being but that the accumulation of wealth did not tend to close the gap. Mindfulness however was associated with a lower financial-desire discrepancy and thus a higher subjective well-being, so mindfulness may promote the perception of “having enough”.
- Shao (2009) used a randomised controlled study to illuminate the correlation between MBA candidates subjected to a mindfulness intervention and increased academic performance. He found mindfulness was positively related to performance for women.
- Davidson et al. showed that mindfulness practice improves the immune system and alters activation symmetries in the prefrontal cortex, a change previously associated with an increase in positive affect and a faster recovery time from exposure to a negative experience. These changes in subjects persisted even after periods they were done meditating.
Copied wholesale from wikipedia, but yeah. It's good to see our practice well on its way towards a myriad of scientific acknowledgement.