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Cultivating equanimity through mindfulness meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the development of decentring capabilities in men

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Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills. Such skills may be especially useful for male meditators, as men are thought to have particular difficulties regulating their emotions, partly due to masculinity norms related to emotional toughness. However, few studies of mindfulness have focussed specifically on men to explore the intersection between wellbeing and masculinity. Uniquely, we sought to examine the development of decentring capabilities in a non-clinical sample of male meditators using a longitudinal mixed-methods design. Thirty meditators were recruited in London, UK. Participants completed an emotional Stroop task – at two points, a year apart – to assess changes in emotional reactivity linked to meditation. Participants also undertook qualitative interviews at both time points, analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Together, the two datasets converged to suggest that men did develop decentring skills through meditation, leading to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia. In addition to offering insights into the mechanisms underpinning the impact of mindfulness on wellbeing, the study provides a gendered dimension to the analysis of wellbeing strategies like meditation, a dimension which has hitherto been conspicuously absent from recent literature in fields such as positive psychology.
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Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). Cultivating equanimity through
mindfulness meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the development of decentering capabilities in
men. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(3), 88-106. doi:10.5502/ijw.v5i3.7
Tim Lomas
University of East London
t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
Copyright belongs to the author(s)
www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org
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ARTICLE
Cultivating equanimity through mindfulness
meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the
development of decentring capabilities in men
Tim Lomas · Trudi Edginton · Tina Cartwright · Damien Ridge
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of
dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills. Such skills may be especially
useful for male meditators, as men are thought to have particular difficulties regulating their
emotions, partly due to masculinity norms related to emotional toughness. However, few studies
of mindfulness have focussed specifically on men to explore the intersection between wellbeing
and masculinity. Uniquely, we sought to examine the development of decentring capabilities in a
non-clinical sample of male meditators using a longitudinal mixed-methods design. Thirty
meditators were recruited in London, UK. Participants completed an emotional Stroop task at
two points, a year apart to assess changes in emotional reactivity linked to meditation.
Participants also undertook qualitative interviews at both time points, analysed using a modified
constant comparison approach. Together, the two datasets converged to suggest that men did
develop decentring skills through meditation, leading to greater equanimity in the presence of
negative qualia. In addition to offering insights into the mechanisms underpinning the impact of
mindfulness on wellbeing, the study provides a gendered dimension to the analysis of wellbeing
strategies like meditation, a dimension which has hitherto been conspicuously absent from recent
literature in fields such as positive psychology.
Keywords: mindfulness, decentring, cognition, emotional Stroop, wellbeing, masculinity, men
1. Introduction
1.1 Mindfulness and decentring
Following the development of Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress
Reduction (MBSR) programme, academic interest in mindfulness has flourished, with over 500
studies on the subject in 2012 alone (Shonin, Van Gordon, & Griffiths, 2013). Mindfulness has
been harnessed in a diverse range of settings to deliver a multitude of positive outcomes, from
alleviating occupational stress in challenging occupations (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova,
2005) to promoting healthy eating in people with eating disorders (Dalen et al., 2010). So, what
is mindfulness? Kabat-Zinn’s (2003, p.145) widely-cited ‘operational working definition’
constructs it as ‘the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present
moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.’ This type of
awareness appears to represent a core psychological competency that is transferrable across
multiple domains, enabling/underpinning a range of cognitive and behavioural strategies that
are conducive to wellbeing. As summarised by Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, and Walach (2004,
p.36), the power of mindfulness and hence of interventions designed to cultivate it is based
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on a number of factors: (1) people are often unaware of their moment-to-moment experience, and
instead operate more on ‘autopilot’; (2) mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated; (3)
development is gradual and progressive, requiring practice; (4) better moment-to-moment
awareness produces a ‘richer and more vivid sense of life’; (5) persistent non-judgmental
awareness of mental content leads to less distorted perception and cognition; and (6) accurate
perception and cognition can enhance self-efficacy and control over behaviour.
In recent years various theories have been proposed on the mechanisms through which
mindfulness exerts its positive effects. Hart, Ivtzan, and Hart (2013) identify two main theoretical
schools of thought, one developed by Langer (1989) and colleagues, and the other by Kabat-Zinn
(2003) and Shapiro and colleagues (e.g., Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006). Langer’s
work has tended to focus on mindfulness as a psychological trait (albeit one that can be cultivated
through the practice of meditation), comprising dimensions such as engagement, novelty-
seeking, novelty-production, and flexibility. In contrast, theorizing associated with Kabat-Zinn
and Shapiro and colleagues operationalizes mindfulness as a cognitive skill that can be trained
through practice. The model developed by Shapiro and colleagues has proved particularly
influential (with over 1100 citations for Shapiro et al. (2006) as of July 2015, for example).
Essentially, Shapiro and colleagues offer a theoretical elucidation of Kabat-Zinn’s working
definition (cited above), deconstructing this into three key ‘axioms’ or components: intention (i.e.,
a teleological motivation for engaging in practice, such as commitment to psychological
development); attention (i.e., cognitive processes through which one attends to one’s experience);
and attitude (i.e., emotional qualities with which one imbues one’s attention, like compassion).
Together, these three mechanisms combine to generate an overarching ‘meta-mechanism’ that
Shapiro and colleagues refer to as ‘reperceiving’; this is described as a ‘fundamental shift in
perspective,’ in which ‘rather than being immersed in the personal drama or narrative of our life
story, we are able to stand back and witness it’ (Shapiro et al., 2006, p.377).
Thus, according to Shapiro et al. (2006), in developing mindfulness, people are above all able
to enter into a different relationship with their subjectivity. Practitioners are encouraged to ‘stand
back’ and view subjective qualia as phenomena passing through their internal world, rather than
identifying with and attaching to or becoming averse to such qualia (Bishop et al., 2004). This
‘standing back’ – referred to by Shapiro et al. (2006) as ‘reperceiving’ – is perhaps more
commonly known as ‘decentring,’ defined as ‘the ability to observe one’s thoughts and feelings
as temporary, objective events in the mind, as opposed to reflections of the self that are
necessarily true’ (Fresco et al., 2007, p.234). (‘Reperceiving,’ ‘standing back,’ and ‘decentring’ are
essentially equivalent, different labels for the same phenomenon, and are often used
interchangeably (Hayes-Skelton & Graham, 2013). For consistency, this paper will use
‘decentring’ from this point onwards.) Moreover, according to Shapiro et al. (2006), decentring
(or ‘reperceiving’ in their terminology) is in turn theorized to ‘lead to’ additional mechanisms
which in themselves ‘contribute to the positive outcomes produced by mindfulness practice’
(p.379), including: self-regulation and self-management; emotional, cognitive and behavioural
flexibility; values clarification; and exposure.
Thus, according to Shapiro et al. (2006), decentring is the principle mechanism underlying
the positive impact of mindfulness-based interventions on mental health. In such interventions,
the aim is not to change participants’ thoughts/feelings per se, as cognitive therapy might seek
to do, but to help people ‘become more aware of, and relate differently to’ this content (Shapiro
et al., 2005, p.165). For example, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an adaptation
of MBSR, designed specifically to prevent depressive relapse (Zindel, Segal, Williams, &
Teasdale, 2002). In MBCT, people are taught to decentre from their cognitions, thus helping
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prevent a ‘downward spiral’ of negative thoughts and worsening negative affect which could
otherwise trigger a depressive relapse. Thus MBCT, and mindfulness interventions generally,
involve ‘retraining awareness’ so that people have greater choice in how they relate and respond
to their subjective experience, rather than habitually responding in maladaptive ways
(Chambers, Gullone, & Allen, 2009, p.659).
One of the key beneficial outcomes of developing decentring capabilities is the ability to
tolerate otherwise distressing qualia. The positive impact of retraining awareness in this way is
not limited to depression, but extends to mental health generally. The inability to tolerate
distressing qualia is seen as a transdiagnostic factor underlying diverse psychopathologies
(Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer, 2010), including depression (Borton, Markowitz, &
Dieterich, 2005) and substance abuse (Garland, Gaylord, Boettiger, & Howard, 2010). For
example, in substance abuse, inability to tolerate distress can lead to people attempting to
suppress dysphoria through self-medication, using alcohol and other psychoactive substances to
‘blunt’ their negative affect (Garland et al., 2010). However, tolerance of dysphoria engendered
through mindfulness can lessen the likelihood of people attempting to suppress negative qualia.
Regression analyses show trait mindfulness is associated with reduced emotional suppression
and increased tolerance of negative stimuli (e.g., Schütze, Rees, Preece, & Schütze, 2010).
Moreover, training in mindfulness can reduce thought suppression, thus helping prevent
maladaptive avoidance coping strategies such as self-medication through alcohol (Garland et al.,
2010). Similarly, mindfulness interventions for eating disorders can help people become aware
of triggers of maladaptive eating habits (e.g., emotional distress), and to stay mindful in the
presence of these triggers, rather than reacting by engaging in unhelpful eating behaviours
(Dalen et al., 2010).
1.2 Mechanisms of decentring
So, one of the key processes underpinning the positive impact of mindfulness on wellbeing is the
development of decentring skills. As outlined above, Shapiro et al. (2006) suggest that decentring
(or ‘reperceiving’) comprises three components (intention, attention, and attitude), and leads to
at least four mechanisms which impact positively on mental health (self-regulation and self-
management; emotional, cognitive and behavioural flexibility; values clarification; and
exposure). The question then arises: how does decentring develop? It could be argued that, of
the three component mechanisms identified by Shapiro et al. (2006), the training of attention is
the most crucial feature of this development. For many researchers, the learned regulation of
attention is the defining feature of mindfulness, and meditative practices generally. As Goleman
(1988, p.107) puts it, ‘the need for the meditator to retrain his attention, whether through
concentration or mindfulness, is the single invariant ingredient in every meditation system.’
Likewise, Walsh and Shapiro (2006, pp.228-229) define meditation as ‘a family of self-regulation
practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under
greater voluntary control.’ As this last definition implies, there is a subtle distinction between
attention and awareness; although often used synonymously, these are distinct concepts,
supervening on different neurophysiological processes (Koch & Tsuchiya, 2007). Awareness
refers to subjective experience, i.e., the ‘conscious registration of stimuli, including the five
senses, the kinaesthetic senses, and the activities of the mind’ (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007,
p.212). There are different types of awareness: phenomenal awareness is a catch-all term for
subjective experience, whereas access awareness describes aspects of conscious experience being
available for ‘use in reasoning and rationally guiding speech and action’ (Block, 1995, p.227).
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In contrast, attention refers to cognitive mechanisms that control which stimuli enter
awareness (Rafal & Posner, 1987). These mechanisms serve to enhance the way information is
processed from select areas of the sensory field, moderating cognitive and perceptual processing
by directing resources to relevant internal or external stimuli. Thus, while awareness implies
sensate ‘reactivity,’ attention is more like a ‘searchlight’; as Austin (1998, p.69) puts it, ‘Attention
reaches. It is awareness stretched toward something. It has executive, motoric implications. We
attend to things.’ Attention is theorised as modular, comprising interrelated subcomponents that
are controlled by executive processes within a Supervisory Attention System (Norman &
Shallice, 1986). Inhibitory and excitatory cognitive processes work together to direct and switch
attentional processes to facilitate different attention modalities. A prominent framework
proposes three such modalities, which supervene on functionally distinct but overlapping neural
networks: alerting; orienting; and executive attention (Posner & Petersen, 1990). Alerting (or
‘sustained attention’) refers to the intensity of concentration, involving on-going readiness for
processing stimuli over time. The other networks pertain to attention selectivity. Orienting (or
‘selective attention’ or ‘concentration’) regulates and allocates resources to certain stimuli.
Executive attention (or ‘divided attention’ or ‘conflict monitoring’) involves the monitoring and
selection of competing stimuli; this requires ‘effortful’ top-down processing using various higher
order cognitive processes, including inhibition of responses, self-monitoring and planning, and
is implicated in the self-regulation and control of behaviour. In addition to these, Mirsky,
Anthony, Duncan, Ahearn, and Kellam (1991, p.112) added the faculty of attention switching,
namely ‘the ability to change focus in an adaptable and flexible manner.’
Researchers have used the above models of awareness and attention to conceptualise the
cognitive mechanisms of mindfulness, and meditation more broadly. A distinction is frequently
made between two types of meditation practice (Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson, 2008):
focussed attention (FA), which refers to concentrative, sustained attention on an object; and open-
monitoring (OM), which involves the receptive monitoring of the broader moment-to-moment
content of experience. Lutz et al. (2008) argue that FA-type practices involve the development of
all four attention networks: sustained (towards a target like the breath), monitoring (to prevent
the mind ‘wandering’), switching (disengaging from distractions), and selective (redirecting
attention back to the meditative object). In contrast, OM does not involve focusing attention on
particular stimuli, but is, rather, a broad receptive awareness, i.e., ‘an open field capacity to detect
arising sensory, feeling and thought events within an unrestricted ‘background’ of awareness,
without a grasping of these events in an explicitly selected foreground or focus’ (Raffone &
Srinivasan, 2010, p.2). In OM, passing qualia are registered as they arise, but not ‘held on to’
(Grossman et al., 2004, p.36). Given these descriptions, mindfulness can be characterised as a
state of OM. That said, mindfulness practices invariably begin not with OM, but with FA-type
exercises, such as a focus on the breath. Thus, within a practice, FA is generally needed as a
precursor to OM, since one’s attention must first be stabilised through concentration in order to
prevent the mind ‘wandering’ during OM (Chiesa, Calati, & Serretti, 2011).
The notion that meditation develops these attention and awareness capacities has been
corroborated empirically. Experienced meditators generally score higher than novices on most
attention measures, including selective (Hodgins & Adair, 2010), sustained (Jha, Krompinger, &
Baime, 2007) and executive attention (Moore & Malinowski, 2009). Moreover, longitudinal
studies of novices learning meditation have found increases in most attention capacities related
to meditation practice, including selective (Jha et al., 2007), executive (Wenk-Sormaz, 2005),
sustained (Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010) and switching attention
(Heeren, Van Broeck, & Philippot, 2009). Early stages of training in a meditation ‘career,’
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involving a primary focus on the development of FA, are associated more frequently with
improvements in selective and executive attention, while later phases more frequently pertain to
enhancements in OM, i.e., in unfocused sustained attention (Chiesa et al., 2011). Together, the
training of these different attention modalities means that mindfulness is viewed as a meta-
cognitive skill that enables ‘the self-regulation of attention’ (Bishop et al., 2004, p.233).
Conceivably, it is this development of self-regulatory attention capacities that contributes to the
emergence of decentring skills in meditation. However, this hypothesis has not been directly
tested, as the present study seeks to do.
1.3 Examining decentring
One way of exploring this hypothesis i.e., that the cultivation of attention skills through
meditation enables practitioners to develop decentring capabilities is through a variant of the
classic Stroop (1935) paradigm, a cognitive task which assesses executive attention. The original
Stroop task requires participants to name the ink colour of a colour word, where slower reaction
times (RTs) are observed in ‘incongruent’ conditions (e.g. “blue” written in red ink) than in
congruent conditions (“blue” written in blue ink). One explanation attributes the different RTs
between congruent and incongruent Stroop conditions to ‘interference’ arising from conflict
between different processing pathways underlying colour-naming and word-reading, caused by
‘the simultaneous activation of incompatible and competing representations’ (Botvinick, Cohen,
& Carter, 2004, p.541). Longitudinal studies indicate that meditation can enhance Stroop
performance, which is interpreted as evidence that meditation can facilitate the development of
executive attention (Kozasa, Radvany, Barreiros, Leite, & Amaro, 2008). The particular variation
of the paradigm that potentially links attention development to decentring capabilities is the
emotional Stroop, in which participants are required to name the ink colour of words which
differ in terms of emotional salience (Williams, Mathews, & MacLeod, 1996). In general, reaction
time for emotional words is slower than reaction time for neutral words, especially for words
that are particularly meaningful to a person (Riemann & McNally, 1995). The emotional Stroop
is used in clinical assessment as an adjunctive diagnostic tool to indicate psychopathology, as
patients are often slower to name the colour of a word associated with their condition (Williams
et al., 1996). Theorists explain such findings in terms of cognitive biases, where certain stimuli
have greater emotional salience for some people, who then direct their attention to the emotional
meaning of the words, rather than to the task in hand (Mathews & MacLeod, 1994).
Theoretically, it is conceivable that mindfulness training should enhance emotional Stroop
performance. Rather than getting drawn into semantic processing of emotional stimuli (thus
hindering RT), the enhanced attention skills of practitioners involving a combination of
attentional control, inhibition and flexibility should enable them to redirect their concentration
onto the task at hand (Bishop et al., 2004). One might hypothesise that it is this type of skilful
redeployment of attention that underlies the development of decentring capabilities, and enables
practitioners to cultivate the ability to tolerate negative stimuli (i.e., being aware of such stimuli,
but without engaging in destructive elaborative processing of them). (One must add that
attention redeployment is not the only plausible mechanism underlying decentring. As noted
above, Shapiro et al. (2006) also include intention and attitude as important components.
Buddhist psychological theory also emphasizes the role of insight/wisdom in decentring, e.g.,
understanding the transient and ‘illusory’ nature of stimuli (Goleman, 1988).) However, so far,
this hypothesis has not been borne out in the few studies to examine the impact of meditation
practice on the cognitive processing of emotional stimuli. A study of 33 long-term meditators
failed to find any connection between mindfulness ability and emotional Stroop performance
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(Lykins, Baer, & Gottlob, 2012). Chambers, Lo, and Allen (2008) compared novice meditators
with matched controls on a version of the Internal Switching Task (a measure of sustained and
switching attention) that involved a neutral and an affective condition. Strikingly, while both
groups exhibited slower RTs in the affective condition, this difference was more pronounced
among the meditators, suggesting that they were more reactive to the emotional stimuli. Thus,
although it could be hypothesised that mindfulness training should enable enhanced
performance on the emotional Stroop task i.e., avoiding elaborative processing of emotional
stimuli so far this has not been shown in practice. The present study aims to revisit this
hypothesis.
1.4 Men and masculinity
A further innovative element in the present paper is the focus on a population that has hitherto
not been studied specifically in relation to mindful decentring, or the emotional Stroop generally:
a non-clinical sample of male meditators. Most studies using the emotional Stroop paradigm
examine clinical populations (e.g., using it to help identify psychopathologies); thus studying
task performance in a general population is unusual. The originality of this focus is augmented
by the decision to study men specifically. The rationale for this decision is that men are seen as
particularly liable to experience problems with emotional regulation. Gender theorists argue that
masculinity norms concerning emotional toughness can lead to men dissociating or
disconnecting from their emotions (Addis, 2008). Levant (1998) even proposed the notion of
‘normative male alexithymia’ to describe how gendered socialization pressures can mean males
are discouraged from, and even punished for, expressing emotions; the consequence is a
tendency among men towards an ‘affective style’ referred to as ‘restrictive emotionality.’
This affective style is in turn linked to mental health issues in men. For instance, although
women are commonly viewed as being more susceptible to psychopathologies such as
depression (McManus, Meltzer, Brugha, Bebbington, & Jenkins, 2009), there is a concern that
men’s liability towards restrictive emotionality means their distress may be expressed in indirect
ways. Whereas women are viewed as more likely to ‘internalize’ their distress thus meeting
conventional generic diagnostic criteria for depression men are considered more likely to seek
to suppress or avoid their distress through ‘externalising’ responses such as risk-taking,
substance use, and anger (Pollack, 1998). Such responses are seen as at least partly responsible
for statistical trends such as the rate of suicide among men in the UK being three-and-a-half times
higher than the rate among women (Office for National Statistics, 2014), and men accounting for
two-thirds of all deaths relating to alcohol use (Office for National Statistics, 2012). As such, a
particularly salient question is whether mindfulness meditation can help men specifically to
decentre from negative qualia, thus enabling them to better tolerate feelings of distress, rather
than seeking to blunt, avoid, or suppress these feelings through the maladaptive responses
highlighted above. Thus, the research question that the current study seeks to answer is this: Can
the practice of mindfulness help men to decentre from negative qualia (as indexed by improved
longitudinal performance on an emotional Stroop task, and corroborated by qualitative
interviews)?
2. Methods
2.1 Overview and Design
A longitudinal mixed methods design was used. Thirty male meditators were recruited using a
maximum variation sampling strategy. Semi-structured narrative interviews were conducted
with participants on their entry to the study (T1), and again a year later (T2). Twenty-nine of
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these participants also completed a cognitive testing session at both time points, on the same day
as the interview (participants first completed the test session, and then, after an interval of 10
minutes, undertook the interview).
2.2 Participants
Inclusion criteria were that participants be over 18 and currently practicing meditation (though
not as part of a clinical intervention). A purposive maximum variation sampling design was
used, in which people with a wide range of demographic backgrounds and meditation
experiences were sought (Marshall, 1996). Recruitment ended once saturation was reached
(additional interviews were not deemed to be generating any substantive new themes). A diverse
group of participants was recruited, all of whom lived and/or worked in London. Recruitment
was principally through meditation centres in London, UK, that were affiliated to the Friends of
the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO, recently renamed the Triratna Buddhist Community), one
of the largest Buddhist movements in the UK (Bluck, 2006), The FWBO is unorthodox in that it
does not identify with one particular Buddhist tradition, but rather has syncretically selected
practical/doctrinal elements from various traditions, from Therevadan vipassanā meditation
practices to Tibetan deity rituals. Twenty-six participants were affiliated to the FWBO: 10 were
very closely involved with an FWBO centre (i.e., lived and/or worked there); 11 regularly
attended one; and 5 had only occasional involvement. Two further participants were affiliated to
other traditions, and two final participants were unaffiliated to any group.
The FWBO teaches two core practices: mindfulness (various forms, but most commonly the
mindfulness of breathing), and the metta bhavana (operationalized in the literature as loving-
kindness meditation (LKM)). Thus, the 26 participants affiliated to the FWBO all practiced both
mindfulness (mainly the mindfulness of breathing) and LKM to some extent, both generally and
during the research year, as did three of the participants unaffiliated to the FWBO. Additionally,
some participants engaged in other practices, such as Sādhanā (an ‘advanced’ deity visualization
meditation). Levels of mindfulness practice (and other forms of meditation) over the course of
the year varied greatly among participants, ranging from one session of mindfulness per week
(with occasional periods during which practice ceased), up to two mindfulness sessions per day
for the most committed practitioner. As a final point, although this variation in the types and
amounts of meditation practice among participants may be considered ‘messy’ from a
methodological perspective, it is arguably reflective of the realities of meditation practice away
from controlled clinical settings, since practice habits not only vary from person to person, but
also change and fluctuate over time for individuals themselves.
2.3 Experimental session
Twenty-nine participants took part in an experimental session repeated twice, about a year
apart in which they were assessed on: an emotional Stroop task; a measure of verbal fluency;
and the National Adult Reading Test (Nelson & Willison, 1991) as an index of intellectual
functioning (IQ) to contextualise task performance. The emotional Stroop paradigm was based
on Becker, Rinck, Margraf, and Roth (2001). There were three conditions: positive words (e.g.
“friendly”), negative anxiety-related words (e.g. “death”) and neutral words (e.g. “pencil”). Each
condition featured 12 different words, repeated six times, generating a list of 72 words, arranged
on one card in six columns. Each word was printed in black, brown, green, red, blue or orange
ink. In the testing session, participants were required to state aloud the ink colour of the words
as fast as possible. At both T1 and T2, all participants completed all three conditions, in the same
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order: neutral, negative, positive. Participants were timed on how long they took to complete
each card.
Verbal fluency (ability to access and retrieve words within specific constraints) is considered
to reflect executive function and attentional switching and flexibility. It is differentiated into
phonemic (retrieving words on the basis of phonemic lexical properties) and semantic fluency
(retrieving knowledge from within a semantic framework). Phonemic fluency was assessed
using the FAS task (also referred to as the Controlled Oral Word Association Test; Benton, 1989),
and semantic fluency using a category task. The FAS task required participants to produce words
(excluding proper nouns) beginning with specific letters of the alphabet. The letters were F, A
and S at T1, and P, A and S at T2. At both T1 and T2 participants underwent three consecutive
trials, one for each letter, with each trial lasting 60 seconds. For semantic fluency, the category
task required participants to generate as many category exemplars as possible, in 60 seconds, for
a specific given category (animals at T1, and food/drink at T2).
2.4 Qualitative data collection and analysis
Participants were all interviewed at T1 for up to two hours, with a short follow-up interview at
T2 lasting up to one hour. At T1, the first half of the interview involved eliciting narratives
leading up to, and following on from, participants’ engagement with meditation. The interview
began with a set request: “Tell me a bit about life before meditation,” followed by probes to elicit
relevant narratives. The second part focused on specific areas of interest, such as wellbeing, stress
and coping. T2 interviews were unstructured, apart from a set opening request: “Tell me a bit
about how this year has been.” The data were analysed using a ‘modified’ constant comparison
approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998); this follows the protocol of modified grounded theory, but
omits the final stage of developing a theoretical framework, instead focusing on open and axial
coding, aiming to articulate inter-relations between key themes. The first phase of coding
involved close reading of the first six T1 transcripts, line by line, to identify emergent themes,
which generated 80 codes. Subsequent transcripts were examined paragraph by paragraph for
additional codes, with a final figure of 105. This paper concentrates on data pertaining to
participants’ experiences of learning to decentre through mindfulness meditation. Twelve codes
were identified relating directly to decentring. The next stage involved the generation of a
tentative conceptual framework: codes were compared with each other, and grouped into three
overarching categories according to conceptual similarity. These three categories constitute the
three overarching ‘themes’ outlined in the qualitative results section.
3. Results
3.1 Participant descriptive statistics
Descriptive statistics for the participants in terms of age, IQ, and general meditation experience
(i.e., numbers of years meditating, and hours per week meditating), are shown in table 1 below.
Table 1. Participant descriptive statistics
Demographic
Range
Mean
Std. dev.
Age
27 610
042.50
9.1
IQ
97 121
114.50
6.5
Years meditating
1 26
010.80
7.1
Hours/week meditating
1 80
004.10
1.8
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As elucidated above, mindfulness meditation (mainly the mindfulness of breathing) was the
dominant practice, both within the group (29 out of 30 participants practiced this with some level
of regularity) and for individuals themselves (it was practiced more commonly than any other
type of meditation). More specific details on the precise amount of time devoted to specific
practices were not obtained.
3.2 Quantitative results
In the emotional Stroop, the dependent variable (DV) was the time in seconds taken to complete
the list of 72 words for each condition (i.e., state aloud the ink colour of every word). Thus, each
participant had six DV scores: completion time for each of the three conditions (neutral, negative,
and positive) at two time points (T1 and T2). At T1, participants were slowest on negative words,
and fastest on positive words, while at T2, participants were slowest on neutral words, and
quickest on negative words, as shown in table 2 below.
In terms of analysing the development of decentring capabilities, the key outcome was
longitudinal change in the differential between performance on neutral words and performance
on negative words. The differential was calculated by subtracting the neutral words’ completion
time from the negative words’ completion time, producing a ‘relative negative score’ (reflecting
the relative impact of negative words on task performance). Here, a positive score means a slower
performance on negative words than neutral words; thus the higher the score, the greater the
emotional reactivity. Conversely, a negative score means quicker performance on negative
words than neutral words; thus the closer the scores are to zero (or fall below zero), the less the
reactivity. Participants were slower on negative words than neutral words at T1 (producing a
positive differential score), but quicker on negative words than neutral words at T2 (producing
a negative differential score), as shown in table 2 and figure 1 below.
Table 2. Stroop mean times and differentials in seconds (standard deviation in parentheses)
Neutral
Negative
Positive
Neg.-neut.
Differential
Pos.-neut.
Differential
T2
60.38 (10.11)
64.41 (14.73)
62.17 (10.67)
63.03 (10.91)
61.62 (8.22)
64.24 (12.06)
-1.79 (4.55)*
-1.38 (7.92)*
-1.24 (6.02)
-0.17 (8.26)
* p = .029, one-tailed
To analyse the change in differential over time, a paired-sampled T-test was conducted. This
revealed that there was a significant longitudinal change in the ‘relative negative score’, t(29) =
1.97, p = .029, one-tailed, d = 0.73, 95% CI [-.13, 6.47], changing from a positive differential at T1 (M
= 1.79, SD = 4.55) to a negative differential at T2 (M = -1.38, SD = 7.92).
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Figure 1: Line graph showing the change in the ‘negative-neutral’ and the ‘positive-neutral’
Stroop differentials from T1 to T2
A second key outcome was longitudinal change in the differential between performance on
positive words and performance on neutral words. The differential was calculated by subtracting
the neutral words’ completion time from the positive words’ completion time, producing a
‘relative positive score.’ A positive score means a slower performance on positive words than
neutral words. A negative score means a quicker performance on positive words than neutral
words. Participants ‘improved’ their differential from T1 to T2, i.e., becoming quicker on positive
words relative to neutral words, as shown in table 3 and figure 2 below.
Table 3. Verbal fluency phonemic and semantic fluency mean scores (standard deviation
in parentheses).
T1
T2
Phonemic (FAS)
Semantic (categories)
47.34 (9.99)** *
73.59 (11.81)**
55.86 (12.76)* *
84.28 (16.60)**
* p = .001
** p < .001
To analyse the change in differential over time, a paired-sampled T-test was conducted. This
revealed that there was no significant longitudinal change in the ‘relative positive score,’ t(29) =
0.89, p = .38, d = 0.33, 95% CI [-1.83, 4.66], although the differential did reduce from T1 (M = 1.24,
SD = 6.02) to T2 (M = -0.17, SD = 8.26)
In the verbal fluency tasks, the DV was the number of different words produced in 60 seconds
for each trial. A phonemic fluency score was obtained by calculating the mean score across these
three trials (F, A and S at T1; P, A, and S at T2). The semantic fluency score was simply the DV
from the category trial. Participants improved their phonemic and semantic fluency scores from
T1 to T2, as shown in the table and figure below.
To analyse the change in differential over time, a paired-sampled T-test was conducted.
There was a significant longitudinal change in phonemic fluency, t(29) = -3.76, p = .001, d = 1.39,
95% CI [-13.16, -3.87], with lower scores at T1 (M = 47.34, SD = 9.99) than T2 (M = 55.86, SD =
12.76). There was also a significant longitudinal change in semantic fluency, t(29) = -2.36, p = 0.25,
-12
-10
-8
-6
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
8
10
T1 T2
Stroop
differential
-
Difference in
completion
times (seconds)
Neg-neut
differential
Pos-neut
differential
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d = 0.88, 95% CI [-4.06, -.287], with lower scores at T1 (M = 26.24, SD = 4.8) than T2 (M = 28.41, SD
= 6.13).
Figure 2: Line graph showing the change in phonemic and semantic fluency from T1 to T2.
3.3 Qualitative results
One overarching theme emerged from our analysis: through practicing mindfulness meditation,
men reported developing decentring capabilities. Under this broad theme, there were three
interlinked themes, each with subthemes, as shown in table 4 below. The number of participants
endorsing each theme and sub-theme is indicated in the table in parentheses; although such
quantification is more commonly the province of content analysis, arguments have recently been
made for extending such practices to qualitative methods more generally in order to improve the
presentation of qualitative results (e.g., Anderson, 2010), as has been attempted here.
The themes and sub-themes express a general pattern of development of decentring skills,
and are connected as follows (with numerical labels for subthemes, detailed in table 4 below, in
parentheses). For most men, meditation was the first time they had introspected in any
systematic way (1.1.), and many were surprised by aspects of their phenomenological experience
(1.2.). Nevertheless, participants also appreciated that mindfulness (and other forms of
meditation) could have a positive impact on wellbeing (1.3.), such as helping them become more
aware of their feelings (1.4.). Men described learning to deploy their attention skilfully, beginning
to decentre from their subjective qualia (2.1.), which was reported as a feeling of ‘stepping back
(2.2.). Doing so helped participants to appraise their emotions with greater clarity (2.3.), while
also becoming less identified with these emotions (2.4.). These decentring skills consequently had
a positive impact on wellbeing. Participants were better able to tolerate distressing
thoughts/feelings, which previously they might have tried to suppress or avoid (3.1.). This
tolerance often, though not always, generated a sense of calmness (3.2.). More generally, being
less immersed and invested in the vagaries of their emotional world meant that men were less
reactive and experienced a greater sense of self-control (3.3.), and opened up to new and different
feelings of wellbeing (3.4.).
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
T1 T2
Mean
number of
responses
Phonemic
Semantic
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Table 4. Qualitative themes
Theme
Sub-theme
Example quote
1. (n = 27)
Emotional
engagement
through
meditation
1.1. (n = 16)
Turning inwards in
meditation (12)
“[I took] a mindfulness based cognitive therapy course, [which] was
the introduction to watching my mind in a way.” (P26)
1.2. (n = 19)
Initial unfamiliarity
with mind
“There’s the shock [of] really encountering your mind for the first
time!” (P20)
1.3. (n = 12)
Sensing the positive
potential
“It was a bit weird, and I really [didn’t] understand what I was
doing counting my breaths, but it [felt] like I [did] a useful thing
that might [help my] depression.” (P28)
1.4. (n = 20)
Awareness of
emotions/thoughts
“I can tell if something’s not right, maybe I have anxiety… then it
dawns on me, ‘Oh I’m upset aren’t I,’ and it’s like, ‘Oh ok, just
allow those feelings to come through.’” (P30)
2. (n = 18)
Learning to
decentre
2.1. (n = 7)
Being interested but
not involved
“It’s finding this line between not pushing it away… but not getting
caught up in it and feeding it... A particular type of attention…
interested, but not getting caught up in it (P5)
2.2. (n = 11)
Stepping back
“I'm able to step back more easily and become aware of what's going
on, rather than just being in the flow of what's going on.” (P10)
2.3. (n = 8)
Greater clarity through
distance
“I see my own kind of states a bit clearer now, I’m not likely just to
get buried and get lost in them.” (P24)
2.4. (n = 8)
Dis-identifying with
mental content
“I realised there was this very, very critical voice [in my head]
[Then I thought], ‘What if that… version of reality that it’s telling
me is not actually fair [or] true.’ (P9)
3. (n = 22)
Enhanced
wellbeing
through
decentring
3.1. (n = 16)
Tolerance of negative
qualia
It feels like building up a sort of stronger vessel to hold those
uncomfortable feelings… I’m able to contain that… I don’t have to
try to get away from the experience.’” (P26)
3.2. (n = 10)
Consequent calmness
and lack of distress
In seeing the best and worst of ourselves, we are also bigger to hold
it... The calmness is also like a bigness. One can hold the highs and
lows of oneself.” (P29)
3.3. (n = 8)
Self-efficacy and
control
“It’s like you’ve got a third eye that’s watching yourself; it’s saying,
‘no don’t do that, that’s not nice’ … watching your own behaviour
and allowing you to enjoy life.” (P11)
3.4. (n = 24)
Feelings of wellbeing
“There was that sense of space, of choice opening up, of
experiencing being a little more vivid, more bright; just my
experience being a little more easy to be with.” (P29)
4. Discussion
The results indicate that practicing mindfulness can lead to enhanced decentring skills, and that
these skills can enable people to better tolerate feelings of discomfort and distress. Moreover, the
current study is unique in exploring this development in men specifically. Men are regarded as
having particular issues in respect of emotional suppression (Addis, 2008): masculinity norms
related to toughness are seen as contributory factors in the development of a maladaptive
affective style, known as restrictive emotionality, that is common in men (Levant, 1998).
Development of such a maladaptive affective style can result in men struggling to tolerate or
manage negative emotions, and instead seeking to blunt or avoid these emotions through various
deleterious ‘externalising’ behaviours such as substance use, aggression or suicide (Pollack,
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1998). Such is the prevalence of restrictive emotionality in men that Levant (1998) refers to this
as ‘normative male alexithymia.’ However, results here suggest that this affective style is not
inevitable. Through practices such as mindfulness meditation, men can learn to re-connect with
their emotions, and develop a more adaptive affective style. Moreover, the positive impact of
meditation is not limited to re-connecting emotionally. Mindfulness appears to facilitate a stance
of decentring, via the development of capacities such as executive attention, which means
practitioners not only develop better awareness of their emotions, but also and crucially, greater
tolerance of them. Thus, men here were able to feel relatively comfortable in the presence of these
difficult qualia, rather than seeking to avoid or blunt them, as they said they previously often
sought to do. The current study is also innovative in employing a mixed methods design to
explore this development of decentring; thus, we have evidence for this development from both
quantitative and qualitative datasets.
Firstly, longitudinal quantitative results from the emotional Stroop task provide indirect
evidence that men developed decentring skills through practicing mindfulness meditation. The
key outcome in this task was the differential between negative and neutral performance. This
differential can be interpreted as an index of emotional reactivity, gauging the extent to which
attention processing is affected by the negative content of stimuli. Here, this differential
decreased from T1 to T2. The inference is that participants were less emotionally affected by
negative stimuli at the second testing session. This interpretation is based on the fact that the
emotional Stroop is used in clinical assessment to help identify psychopathology (Williams et al.,
1996): people with a particular disorder perform more slowly on tasks featuring words relating
to that condition, since such words are more personally salient; thus, people get drawn into
semantic processing of the stimuli, rather than focusing on the set task. On this reading,
improved performance on a Stroop task might be taken as indicative of reduced
psychopathology in a clinical patient. Transposed to a non-clinical sample, as in the present
study, reduced emotional reactivity to negative stimuli might be interpreted as reflecting
increased tolerance of such stimuli. Taking the Stroop data alone, such an interpretation is rather
speculative; however, in conjunction with the other data, this interpretation is more tenable.
Firstly, there were significant improvements over time in executive attention, as indexed by the
verbal fluency tasks; these findings suggest that participants were developing skills related to
attentional control, inhibition and flexibility, thus developing the cognitive mechanisms that
could facilitate greater tolerance of negative qualia. Secondly, the qualitative data also
corroborated this notion of participants cultivating greater tolerance (as elaborated upon below).
Moreover, this development is what might reasonably be expected on theoretical and empirical
grounds in light of previous work associating mindfulness with enhanced affective tolerance
(Bishop et al., 2004).
Furthermore, it is possible that this increased tolerance was linked to the cultivation of
decentring skills through practicing mindfulness. Of course, in terms of the quantitative data
alone, this possibility cannot be substantiated due to the primary limitation of the study: the
absence of a control group. (The reason for this omission is that, unlike most mixed methods
research, the research was ‘qualitatively driven’ (Mason, 2006), and therefore did not prioritize a
conventional experimental design. That is, the primary focus of the research was qualitative
interviews, with quantitative data gathered as an adjunct to this for the purposes of
‘interrogating’ or elucidating the qualitative data.) Thus, although participants did become less
reactive to negative stimuli over time, this cannot be definitively attributed to the practice of
mindfulness itself. However, again, this possibility is strengthened by the qualitative data, which
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was particularly useful in shedding light on participants’ subjective experiences of learning to
decentre.
The qualitative analysis corroborated Shapiro et al.’s (2006) theoretical model of mindfulness,
showing how the various components of their model operated in the context of participants’
actual meditation practice. As elucidated above, Shapiro et al. (2006) argue that decentring (or
‘reperceiving’) comprises three components: intention, attention, and attitude. The quantitative
data provided evidence suggestive of the development of attention, as discussed above. This
evidence was corroborated by the qualitative data, as participants specifically described the
development of attention skills, e.g., learning to ‘watch’ their mind (e.g., quote 1.1.). However,
the qualitative data also pointed to the importance of the other two components identified by
Shapiro et al. (2006). Firstly, intention played a crucial role (which is often overlooked in the
meditation literature) as the fundamental pre-requisite for subsequent attention development. A
significant aspect of participants’ narratives was the long road they had travelled in life before
developing the requisite intention to engage with their mental health through meditation, which
corroborates Levant’s (1998) point above about the prevalence and durability of restrictive
emotionality in men. It was often not until a crisis occurred (e.g., a breakdown) that men finally
developed the motivation and courage to ‘do something,’ i.e., try meditation. The urge to
improve their mental health thereafter constituted a strong element of their intention (as per
quote 1.3). Learning to imbue attention with a particular attitude was likewise crucial, as
encapsulated by quote 2.1; this shows that intention and attention are themselves insufficient for
decentring one must still develop the difficult skill of attending in a compassionate and
‘nonjudgmental’ way, as Kabat-Zinn (2003) and others have emphasized.
The qualitative data further corroborate Shapiro et al.’s (2006) contention that learning to
decentre (or ‘reperceive’) in turn leads to additional mechanisms that have a beneficial impact
upon wellbeing. For instance, self-regulation/self-management and emotional, cognitive and
behavioural flexibility are both reflected in quotes 3.3 and 3.4, which confirm Chamber’s et al.’s
(2009, p.659) contention that decentring facilitates ‘greater choice’ in how one responds to
subjective experience. Likewise, exposure defined by Shapiro et al. (2006) as the ability to
experience ‘even very strong emotions with greater objectivity and less reactivity’ (p.381) is
evident in quotes 3.1 and 3.2. This corroborates clinical work which has found that mindfulness
training can help people stay ‘present’ in the face of uncomfortable emotional triggers, rather
than reacting though maladaptive behaviour patterns such as alcohol use (Garland et al., 2010)
or dysfunctional eating behaviours (Dalen et al., 2010).
Interestingly, participants were also less affected by positive stimuli at T2 than T1 (although
this change was not significant). Taken together with the reduced reactivity to negative stimuli,
this perhaps suggests that men cultivated increased equanimity to emotional stimuli in general.
That is, participants became less reactive over time to both negative and positive stimuli (as
indexed by improved performance on the respective conditions of the Stroop task), although this
reduction was more pronounced (i.e., statistically significant) with respect to negative stimuli.
This equanimity reinforces a key theoretical assumption regarding the impact of mindfulness on
mental health outcomes: that it helps practitioners to decentre from phenomenological content
generally (i.e., irrespective of valence), and thus refrain from responding to negative emotional
stimuli in maladaptive ways, such as suppression or avoidance. Moreover, such decentring may
be particularly helpful for men specifically: since these kinds of maladaptive patterns of
emotional responding are linked to mental health issues in men (Addis, 2008), the findings
suggest that mindfulness meditation may be an effective strategy that can help men adopt more
helpful patterns of emotional engagement.
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Limitations of the study mean that these interpretations are somewhat speculative, and need
further testing and validation. In particular, as noted above, the lack of a control group means
the longitudinal improvements in the Stroop performance cannot be definitively ascribed to
meditation (although the qualitative evidence suggests that this is a reasonable conjecture). There
are other issues with quantitative testing; however, these are arguably not a concern in the
present study. For instance, longitudinal paradigms featuring repetitions of a particular task are
liable to practice effects, in which practice and experience gained on initial engagement with the
task might enhance subsequent performance. However, while this is a legitimate concern for
short test-retest intervals, a test-retest interview of a year is generally deemed adequate to ensure
that such effects are minimal (Hausknecht, Halpert, Di Paolo, & Moriarty Gerrard, 2007).
Nevertheless, with the Stroop task, one might still argue that practice effects were operative
within each session, since participants completed three trials in each session undertaking the
neutral, negative and positive conditions (in that order). It has been found that Stroop
performance can be improved with short-term practice, as people find ways to minimise
interference between the competing task demands of colour recognition and semantic encoding,
potentially leading to a diluted Stroop effect for later conditions (MacLeod & Dunbar, 1988). Such
dilution is not a concern here, however. The order in which the conditions were presented may
have affected absolute performance times (i.e. neutral words were presented before negative
words, thus participants may have found negative words easier due to practice effects).
However, the key outcome was not absolute performance times, but relative performance times,
i.e., the negative-neutral differential at T1 and T2. As the order of the conditions was kept
constant at T1 and T2, this meant both sessions were subject to the same practice effects (e.g.
negative words being easier at T1 and T2). As such, analysis of the change in differential from T1
to T2 was unaffected.
That said, it is possible that even if practice effects were not operant per se, participants
undertook the T2 session in a different mood or ‘spirit’ than the T1 session, having already been
exposed to the experience. Assessing participants’ mood is difficult (without having specifically
sought to do so), and so any interpretations offered here are necessarily speculative.
Nevertheless, it is conceivable that participants felt more relaxed and less anxious at the T2
encounter, benefitting from a familiarity with the researcher and the protocol that would have
been lacking at T1. This dynamic change may have influenced the results. Performance on the
emotional Stroop can be hampered by emotional states like anxiety (i.e., task performance on the
‘negative’ condition can be slower due to the greater salience of negative words), which is the
very reason the task is used in clinical assessment (Williams et al., 1996). Conversely though, a
case could also reasonably be made that participants have greater levels of anxiety at the T2
session, for example arising from a concern to ‘improve’ their performance. Thus, while it is
possible that factors like mood did affect test (and interview) performance, it is difficult to gauge
the impact with accuracy. Future longitudinal research might incorporate a state specific
measure of mood (e.g., Watson, Clark, and Tellegen’s (1988) Positive And Negative Affect Scale)
into the protocol to account for such factors.
The qualitative component of the study also raises certain issues. In qualitative research, a
commitment to reflexivity means recognising that the methodological and epistemological
choices of the research team influenced the data at all stages of the research process (Cutcliffe,
2005). For example, the data elicited from interviews is shaped through factors such as the mood
of participants (as discussed above), the choice of interview questions and the expectations of the
interviewer. Regarding question choice and interviewer expectations, it might be argued that the
research question itself i.e., whether mindfulness meditation facilitates decentring led to the
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research team actively looking for a positive finding in the interviews. Although the constant
comparison analytic method used allows themes to ‘emerge’ inductively from the data, the
notion that the expectations of the research team influenced the subsequent analysis cannot be
ruled out. However, the convergence of the quantitative and qualitative data means that we can
have a degree of confidence that our interpretations were not simply imposed upon the data, but
reflected actual patterns of cognitive development.
As such, it may be argued that mindfulness meditation is one way in which men can learn to
decentre; consequently, by learning to do so, men may become more tolerant and show greater
equanimity in the face of negative qualia, thus lessening their tendency to engage in maladaptive
avoidance coping responses, and increasing their wellbeing more generally. These findings
might have useful applications; for instance, young men might be encouraged to adopt
meditation practices to equip them with valuable cognitive and emotional skills, helping to
overcome deficits that this section of the population may be particularly liable to, thus enhancing
the wellbeing of men themselves and of those around them. Future work could also be
undertaken with female meditators to examine any sex/gender differences in the development
of decentring skills, thereby furthering our understanding and appreciation of mindfulness more
generally.
Authors
Tim Lomas
University of East London
t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
Trudi Edginton
University of Westminster
Tina Cartwright
University of Westminster
Damien Ridge
University of Westminster
Publishing Timeline
Received 13 January 2015
Accepted 19 July 2015
Published 3 August 2015
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... The practice and cultivation of mindfulness states were associated with elevations in manifestations of equanimity, i.e. decreased hedonic-based avoidance (Hadash et al., 2016;Shoham et al., 2018). Mindfulness meditation is also thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills (Lomas et al., 2015). ...
... Psychological distancing has been shown to decrease emotional and physiological reactivity, and reduce rumination over time (Kross et al., 2005;Kross & Ayduk, 2008). Lomas et al. (2015) reported that developing decentring skills through meditation leads to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia. ...
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Equanimity has been a highly valued spiritual goal in Buddhism, in the scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and in Yoga traditions. Equanimity is a state of even-mindedness towards all experiences, regardless of their affective valence. The cultivation of equanimity may transform our perceptual-cognitive–emotional systems to widen our perspective on experience, increase distress tolerance and reduce habitual reactivity. The psychological literature has mainly focussed on mindfulness as the cultivation method of equanimity. However, there are various other indigenous pathways and methods for the cultivation of equanimity which this study aims to explore in detail. Thirty experts from various contemplative traditions such as yoga, meditation, Buddhism, and Indian Psychology were interviewed. Analysis of the interviews suggests various methods for the cultivation of equanimity such as practices facilitating awareness and openness towards experience, generative practices, various pathways of yoga and indirect pathways such as socio-emotional ethical learning, art and others. These techniques are elaborated separately for children and adults. Implications for practice: The implications of the cultivation of equanimity are discussed in context of holistic well-being, leadership practices and for the development of therapeutic models and techniques.
... Alford and Beck (1997) describe distancing as the ability to view one's thoughts as constructions of 'reality' rather than as reality itself. Psychological distancing has been shown to decrease emotional and physiological reactivity, and reduce rumination over time (Kross & Ayduk, 2008) and developing decentring skills leads to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia (Lomas et al., 2015). This paper is a contribution to the Indian ethos of well-being. ...
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Western models and constructs have dominated research on well-being in India. There is a lacuna of indigenous constructs of well-being developed from our rich archival data and texts. Indigenous constructs are significant as being deeply embedded in the Indian ethos, they can be easily accepted and integrated into therapeutic practice. To fill this lacuna, the construct of Samatva (equanimity) as described in the Bhagavad Gita is examined. The analysis of the text resulted in the identification of 41 core verses referring to Samatva. The major themes extrapolated are i) Samatva as a state of even-mindedness and rising above the dualities ii) The inter-personal dimension of Samatva iii) Samatva and the understanding of the temporality of experience iv) Associated cognitive-affective cultivation practices of Samatva v) Suggested health and spiritual implications of Samatva vi) Samatva and transcendence of Triguna. With the increasing rates of Anxiety and Depression, the cultivation of Samatva has been discussed with implications for holistic well-being, leadership and management.
... Apart from the early original clinical applications of mindfulness to chronic pain as well as anxiety and depression, mindfulness has since been applied to a range of other psychological conditions including borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and psychosis (Didonna, 2009)to such an extent that mindfulness has been regularly referred to as having transdiagnostic applicability (Hanley, Abell, Osborn, Roehrig, & Canto, 2016;, Williams, van Mawijk, Armitage, & Sheffield, 2018). While some researchers have offered some hypotheses about what might be the transdiagnostic elements in mindfulness practicefor example the practitioner's ability to tolerate distressing qualia (Lomas, Edginton, Cartwright, & Ridge, 2015) such transdiagnostic conceptualisations of mindfulness tend to lead to the conclusion that there will be one primary mechanism of function for mindfulness that can be proposed and studied scientifically. Although various such mechanisms have been proposed (Cebolla et al., 2018;Chiesa, Anselmi, & Serretti, 2014), the field is still far from being close to a consensus about this matter. ...
... Apart from the early original clinical applications of mindfulness to chronic pain as well as anxiety and depression, mindfulness has since been applied to a range of other psychological conditions including borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and psychosis (Didonna, 2009)to such an extent that mindfulness has been regularly referred to as having transdiagnostic applicability (Hanley, Abell, Osborn, Roehrig, & Canto, 2016;, Williams, van Mawijk, Armitage, & Sheffield, 2018). While some researchers have offered some hypotheses about what might be the transdiagnostic elements in mindfulness practicefor example the practitioner's ability to tolerate distressing qualia (Lomas, Edginton, Cartwright, & Ridge, 2015) such transdiagnostic conceptualisations of mindfulness tend to lead to the conclusion that there will be one primary mechanism of function for mindfulness that can be proposed and studied scientifically. Although various such mechanisms have been proposed (Cebolla et al., 2018;Chiesa, Anselmi, & Serretti, 2014), the field is still far from being close to a consensus about this matter. ...
Book
This book provides an outline and critical discussion of the characteristics of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) research. Since the first reports on the use of mindfulness practices in health interventions, a large body of research literature has emerged to document the effectiveness of MBIs for reducing psychological distress and to increase well-being. The integration of mindfulness into very diverse psychological theories makes it a unique concept in psychology that has generated a large amount of interest both in academic research but also the broader media. With this growing literature, mindfulness researchers have also recognised the need to be more critical of its developments, such as how MBIs are presented to the public or what types of research methods are used to test claims of an MBI's effectiveness. This book examines the large variety of approaches in which MBIs have been studied, including an outline of the philosophical underpinnings of MBI research, definition and measurement of mindfulness, the use of qualitative and quantitative research methods, research design, and research that addresses cultural and religious factors. The book contributes to increased awareness of the current direction of MBI research and thus seeks to contribute to further methodological refinement and sophistication of the research field. This book on the characteristics of research on MBIs is a must read for any researcher or practitioner interested in this fascinating topic. © 2019 Christian U. Krägeloh, Marcus A. Henning, Oleg N. Medvedev, Xuan Joanna Feng, Fiona Moir, Rex Billington, Richard J. Siegert. All Rights Reserved.
... Selfless reference process: Self-observation; Decentering, Metacognitive awareness, Re-perceiving (Han et al., 2010;Hölzel et al., 2011;Bernstein et al., 2015;Hadash et al., 2016); Self-de(re)construction (Epstein, 1988; Williams and Kabat-Zinn, 2011); Self-flexibility (Hayes et al., 2006;Ie et al., 2013;Atkins et al., 2015). Self attitude: Openness (Baer et al., 2006); Self-acceptance (Carson and Langer, 2006;Dryden and Still, 2006) Self-compassion/kindness ; Wisdom and Compassion (Hosking, 2007;Germer and Siegel, 2012); Non-attachment (Sahdra et al., 2010;Xuan et al., 2016); Equanimity (Lomas et al., 2015). ...
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This paper analyzes studies of mindfulness and the self, with the aim of deepening our understanding of the potential benefits of mindfulness and meditation for mental health and well-being. Our review of empirical research reveals that positive changes in attitudes toward the self and others as a result of mindfulness-enabled practices can play an important role in modulating many mental and physical health problems. Accordingly, we introduce a new concept—the “mindful self”—and compare it with related psychological constructs to describe the positive changes in self-attitude associated with mindfulness meditation practices or interventions. The mindful self is conceptualized as a mindfulness-enlightened self-view and attitude developed by internalizing and integrating the essence of Buddhist psychology into one’s self-system. We further posit that the mindful self will be an important intermediary between mindfulness intervention and mental health problems, and an important moderator in promoting well-being. More generally, we suggest that the mindful self may also be an applicable concept with which to describe and predict the higher level of self-development of those who grow up in the culture of Buddhism or regularly engage in meditation over a long period of time.
... In order to experience the benefit of non-reactivity in one's nursing practice, training is obviously required. Mindfulness training is closely associated with inculcating equanimity Shapiro et al. 2006;Desbordes et al., 2015 Q3 ; Lomas et al. 2015). Mindfulness is variously understood; however, the most frequently cited definition is the one offered by Kabat-Zinn (1994, p. 4): "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." ...
... Lomas et al.'s (2015) 84 qualitative study investigated whether mindfulness can help men specifically to develop decentring skills and thus enable them to better tolerate feelings of distress rather than seeking to blunt, avoid or supress them through maladaptive responses. Participants (currently practicing meditation) completed an Emotional Stroop task l at two time points a year apart and showed reduced emotional reactivity to negative stimuli suggesting increased distress tolerance. ...
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A recent surge of interest in equanimity as an important and transformative dimension of the cultivation of mindfulness can benefit from discerning different types of equanimity recognized in the Buddhist traditions, such as between equanimity as a divine abode or immeasurable and equanimity as the absence of compulsive reactivity by way of likes and dislikes. In order to provide an early Buddhist background to a more fine-grained understanding of the construct of equanimity, the present article surveys key passages on equanimity in their relationship to mindfulness.
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There is growing recognition of the importance and value of integrating quantitative and qualitative research in the same study to provide a better understanding of a research question, to capture the complexity of an experience, and for generating more questions of interest for future studies. As the interest in adopting a mixed methods approach in mindfulness research continues to grow, details can be lacking in terms of how a study was conducted and the procedures used to analyze and interpret the data. In an attempt to understand the pattern of how mixed methods research was used in mindfulness research, we conducted a critical methodological review using content analysis. Specifically, mixed methods articles related to mindfulness research were evaluated in terms of how the articles included key components of mixed methods research designs. From our sample (N = 35), none of the articles included all of the recommended components (explicitly state the mixed methods design, the mixed methods research question(s), the rationale for mixed methods, the priority of the strands, and cite mixed methods literature) in a published mixed methods research study. Findings reveal the growing acceptance of mixed methods studies in mindfulness research and the need for more rigor when using mixed methods designs. Researchers are encouraged to clearly outline the reasons for their design and their research questions. This article provides recommendations and can serve as a reference for mindfulness research using mixed methods designs.
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Learning to meditate as an older adult can be difficult given the decreased ability to inhibit distractions in the elderly, and the important role of dealing with distractions in several types of meditation practice. Designing technologically assisted meditation practices in general is an area that is only beginning to be explored, and this is especially true for these kinds of technologies for older adults. In order to better design support for meditation practices for such a population we performed a qualitative study of 9 meditators aged 55+ in order to understand their specific needs, followed by a pilot study of a device which we designed in order to address these needs. Our analysis of these interviews yielded three themes. First was that there was an initial difficulty and discouraging experience when performing focused attention exercises which comprise a significant part of a beginner’s meditation practice. Second was a difficulty understanding when you are “doing it right” and how to make sense of teachings. Third was an openness to making use of new technologies and ways of supporting their meditation practice as long as the new support does not interfere with what they considered the core parts of meditation to be. We then use these results to outline design considerations for a neurofeedback application to address these needs.
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Previous studies have indicated that as many as 25% to 50% of applicants in organizational and educational settings are retested with measures of cognitive ability. Researchers have shown that practice effects are found across measurement occasions such that scores improve when these applicants retest. In this study, the authors used meta-analysis to summarize the results of 50 studies of practice effects for tests of cognitive ability. Results from 107 samples and 134,436 participants revealed an adjusted overall effect size of .26. Moderator analyses indicated that effects were larger when practice was accompanied by test coaching and when identical forms were used. Additional research is needed to understand the impact of retesting on the validity inferences drawn from test scores.
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Much effort has been made to understand the role of attention in perception; much less effort has been placed on the role attention plays in the control of action. Our goal in this chapter is to account for the role of attention in action, both when performance is automatic and when it is under deliberate conscious control. We propose a theoretical framework structured around the notion of a set of active schemas, organized according to the particular action sequences of which they are a part, awaiting the appropriate set of conditions so that they can become selected to control action. The analysis is therefore centered around actions, primarily external actions, but the same principles apply to internal actions—actions that involve only the cognitive processing mechanisms. One major emphasis in the study of attentional processes is the distinction between controlled and automatic processing of perceptual inputs (e.g., Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). Our work here can be seen as complementary to the distinction between controlled and automatic processes: we examine action rather than perception; we emphasize the situations in which deliberate, conscious control of activity is desired rather than those that are automatic.
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The literature on mindfulness has been dominated by the two leading schools of thought: one advanced by Langer and her colleagues; the other developed by Kabat-Zinn and his associates. Curiously, the two strands of research have been running in parallel lines for more than 30 years, scarcely addressing each others’ work, and with almost no attempt to clarify the relationship between them. In view of this gap, this article sought to systematically compare and contrast the two lines of research. The comparison between the two schools of thought suggests that although there are some similarities in their definitions of mindfulness, they differ in several core aspects: their philosophies, the components of their constructs, their goals, their theoretical scope, their measurement tools, their conceptual focus, their target audiences, the interventions they employ, the mechanisms underlying these interventions, and the outcomes of their interventions. However, the analysis also revealed that self-regulation is a core mechanism in both perspectives, which seems to mediate the impact of their interventions. In view of the differences between the two strands of research, we propose that they be given different titles that capture their prime features. We suggest “creative mindfulness” for Langer and her colleagues’ scholarship, and “meditative mindfulness” for Kabat-Zinn and his associates’ scholarly work.
Book
British Buddhism presents a useful insight into contemporary British Buddhist practice. It provides a survey of the seven largest Buddhist traditions in the United Kingdom, including the Forest Sangha (Theravada) and the Samatha Trust (Theravada), the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition (Soto Zen) and Soka Gakkai (both originally Japanese), the Tibetan Karma Kagyu and New Kadampa traditions and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Based on extensive fieldwork, this fascinating book determines how and to what extent British Buddhist groups are changing from their Asian roots, and whether any forms of British Buddhism are beginning to emerge. Despite the popularity of Buddhism in Britain, there has so far been no study documenting the full range of teachings and practice. This is an original study that fills this gap and serves as an important reference point for further studies in this increasingly popular field.