Many Studies Confirm MBSR’s Positive Effects
While MBSR was originally developed to assist people with chronic conditions and stress, its effectiveness has been shown for people across the board. A number of studies have shown MBSR’s positive effects in everyday life:
‘Our findings suggest the usefulness of MBSR as an intervention for a broad range of chronic disorders and problems. In fact, the consistent and relatively strong level of effect sizes across very different types of sample indicates that mindfulness training might enhance general features of coping with distress and disability in everyday life, as well as under more extraordinary conditions of serious disorder or stress.’ 1
Improving Working Memory Under Stress
A study of two cohorts of soldiers, one participating in an 8-week MBSR training and a control group that did not, aimed to find whether mindfulness training (MT) could improve working memory capacity (WMC) under stressful conditions. The study found that MT improved loss of WMC due to stress. It also found that:
‘[n]ot only might MT reduce the likelihood of long-term psychological dysfunction such as posttraumatic stress and anxiety disorders (Brewin & Smart, 2005; Robinson, 2007), but MT could provide greater cognitive resources for soldiers to act ethically and effectively in the morally ambiguous and emotionally challenging counterinsurgency environment.’ 2
While MBSR helps in stress reduction, it can also simply enhance life in general. One study showed MBSR’s positive effects on relationships:
‘Using a randomized wait-list controlled design, this study evaluated the effects of a novel intervention, mindfulness-based relationship enhancement, designed to enrich the relationships of relatively happy, nondistressed couples. Results suggested the intervention was efficacious in (a) favorably impacting couples’ levels of relationship satisfaction, autonomy, relatedness, closeness, acceptance of one another, and relationship distress; (b) beneficially affecting individuals’ optimism, spirituality, relaxation, and psychological distress; and (c) maintaining benefits at 3-month follow-up. Those who practiced mindfulness more had better outcomes, and within-person analyses of diary measures showed greater mindfulness practice on a given day was associated on several consecutive days with improved levels of relationship happiness, relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress. 3
Increasing Rational Decision Making & Emotional Intelligence
Reaction to negative emotions and situations often causes poor decision making, often with long-term consequences. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease reactive responses to negative emotions, allowing more useful decisions to be made. This ability to manage emotional responses is a key to ‘Emotional Intelligence (EQ)” which is a measure of awareness of emotions in self and others, empathy and ability to manage emotions and their effects. 7
‘…meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.’ 4
Positively Altering the Brain
An increased level of brain activation was found in areas of the brain associated with positive emotional expression after an 8 week MBSR course according to a paper in Psychosomatic Medicine published in 2002. This study also reports increased immune functions.
‘These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways…’
‘The findings from this study are the first to suggest that meditation can produce increases in relative left-sided anterior activation that are associated with reductions in anxiety and negative affect and increases in positive affect.’5
Increasing Grey Matter Density, Managing Emotional Responses
There is general agreement that MBSR helps people manage their emotional reactiveness and other negative emotional responses. New research shows this is reflected physically in the brain with increased density.
A recent study has found increased density of ‘grey-matter’ in participants who participated in an 8-week MBSR course. Such an increase has been shown to improve the ability to manage emotional responses. A decrease in grey matter density in critical parts of the brain has also been shown to be associated with such conditions as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘This study demonstrates longitudinal changes in brain gray matter concentration following an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course compared with a control group. Hypothesized increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus were confirmed. Exploratory whole brain analyses identified significant increases in gray matter concentration in the PCC, TPJ, and the cerebellum. The hippocampus has been postulated to play a central role in mediating some of the benefits of meditation, due to its involvement in the modulation of cortical arousal and responsiveness (Newberg and Iversen, 2003), and morphological differences between meditators and non-meditators in the hippocampus have previously been reported (Hölzel et al., 2008; Luders et al., 2009). The hippocampus also contributes to the regulation of emotion (Corcoran and Maren, 2001; Corcoran et al., 2005; Milad et al., 2007) and the structural changes in this area following mindfulness practice may reflect improved function in regulating emotional responding. In contrast to these increases, several pathological conditions (e.g., major depression (Sheline, 2000), post-traumatic stress disorder (Kasai et al., 2008)) are associated with decreased density or volume of the hippocampus.’ 6
Corporate Citizenship, Workplace Wellness and Job Satisfaction
Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect in developing emotional intelligence in leaders, enhancing their ability to be resilient under stress, while maintaining their integrity and morality7. It has proved to assist corporations and workplaces in enhancing staff wellness and resilience including reducing absenteeism, improving cognitive function, improving relationships and job satisfaction8 & 9.
- Grossman, P. et al, (2004), “MBSR and Health Benefits: A Meta-analysis” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57 (2004) 35-43.
- Jha, A.P., et al, (2010), “Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience.” Emotion, Vol 10(1), Feb 2010, 54-64.
- Carson, J.W., (2004), “Mindfulness Based Relationship Enhancement”, Behavior Therapy, 35, 471–494, 2004
- Kirk U., Downar J., and Montague P.R. (2011) “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game. Frontiers in Neuroscience, April 2011, Volume 5, Article 49
- Davison, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., et al, (2003), “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation” Psychosomatic Medicine, 2003 Jul-Aug; 65(4):564-70.
- Lazar, S.W., Holzel, B.K., et al, (2011), “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36.
- Zollo, M. et al, (2010), Understanding and Responding to Societal Demands on Corporate Responsibility (RESPONSE), INSEAD (A project funded by the European Commission 6th Framework Programme)
- Dolman, E., & Bond, D., ‘Mindful leadership: Exploring the value of a meditation practice’, The Ashridge Journal, Spring 2011
- Waddock, S., (2001), “Integrity and Mindfulness: Foundations of Corporate Citizenship,” in J. Andrioff and M. McIntosh (eds.): Perspectives on Corporate Citizenship (Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing, 2001): 26–38. 3