By: Brandon A. Gaudiano, Ph.D. Psychologist at Butler Hospital

In my last blog, I discussed where the term “mindfulness” originally came from and how it’s being used today.  There has been an explosion of research on mindfulness in the last few decades to measure its psychological and health effects.  Studies have found that the practice of mindfulness – to nonjudgmentally notice and attend to the present moment – is associated with a number of interesting things relevant to our daily lives.  Here are few of the intriguing findings at the cutting-edge of research of the past decade.

  1. How mindfulness affects our brains. Researcher Britta K. Hölzel and her colleagues from the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in German compared the brains of experienced meditators and non-meditators using MRI (Magnet Resonance Imaging).  They found that meditators showed greater brain matter concentrations in the right anterior insula, left inferior temporal gyrus, and right hippocampus.  These regions of the brain are associated with body awareness, attention, and the emotion regulation.  Most importantly, they found that the longer the person meditated, the higher the concentrations they had in these brain regions. Meditating may be like training the “muscles” of your brain.
  2. How mindfulness affects stress. A different study by Netta Weinstein and colleagues at the University of Rochester investigated mindfulness in relation to the common experience of coping with stressors. Study participants performed stressful tasks in the laboratory and the researchers measured their levels of mindfulness.  Result showed that people with higher levels of mindfulness were better able to cope with stress and were more resilient under pressure.  In other words, mindful people could better rise to the challenge and adapt in the face of the stress that was thrown at them.
  3. How mindfulness relates to personality types. Researchers Tamara Giluk and Bennette Postlethwaite examined the association between mindfulness and the “Big Five” personality traits that all people have to some degree or another.  They found that mindful individuals tended to show lower levels of neuroticism, anxiety, and other unpleasant moods.  In addition, higher levels of mindfulness were associated with the positive personality trait of conscientiousness, which is described as being dependable, trustworthy, and goal-focused.  So this means that a “mindful” personality style is associated with being happier and healthier.

These are just a few of the hundreds of studies that have been conducted investigating the potential benefits of mindfulness.  While we understand a great deal more than we did ten years ago, future research is hoping to better clarify exactly how mindfulness causes these profound changes to our psyche.

Brandon A. Gaudiano, Ph.D.

Brandon A. Gaudiano, Ph.D. is a psychologist at Butler Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He is the editor of a new book titled Mindfulness, which is a part of Routledge’s “Major Themes in Mental Health” Series. Mindfulness is a four-volume set that contains some of the seminal works on this topic, covering research and theory on the history, assessment, and applications of mindfulness.  A series of Talks Your Health posts highlight each of the four topics covered. Volume I focuses on the historical and philosophical roots of mindfulness. Volume II focuses on cognitive neuroscience and assessment methods. Volume III focuses on clinical interventions incorporating mindfulness. Volume IV focuses on nonclinical applications of mindfulness.