Mindfulness study retracted: Problems with MBSR/MBCT paper

Earlier this year Plos One took the step of retracting a well known and widely cited mindfulness related study.

It's getting harder to make sense of mindfulness research
Is it getting harder to make sense of mindfulness research?

This particular study is a first for the Science of Meditation blog. Whilst we have featured a number of papers that have highlighted methodological problems in meditation and mindfulness research, this is the first time that we have drawn attention to a retraction of a peer-reviewed study.

The basis for the retraction is outlined in detail on the Plos One website, but we have paraphrased the three main points.

  • The handling Academic Editor shared an affiliation with three of the authors, although this didn’t emerge until post-publication.
  • Two of the authors hold or had held positions at an institute offering mindfulness related products and services in clinical contexts.
  • The paper has a number of errors including pooling of results which led to double counting and incorrect effect estimates in figures contained in the study.

There’s not a lot more we need to add to the identified issues, they speak for themselves. However, when considered as part of the ongoing crisis in mindfulness research they make troubling reading.

A general defence used in cognitive psychology when the findings of mindfulness studies are criticised is, the peer review system is self-regulating. That when studies are found to be below the expected standard, they are usually rejected during review. Or at the very least other experts working in the field have the opportunity to raise concerns in print. This retraction challenges this basic notion. Significant issues with both the methodology and the editorial process can endure, thus, have the ability to influence the scientific and popular understanding of mindfulness. According to Google Scholar, this Gotink et al. study has been cited over 400 times, the citing publications, in turn, used by thousands more papers. The details provided on the Plos One website indicate the study has received 50,000 views.

Rather than simply criticize this study or the journal, I would like to ask what this retraction show us about the way that meditation technologies are being treated by clinical and scientific institutions?

Authors: Gotink, R. A., Chu, P., Busschbach, J. J., Benson, H., Fricchione, G. L., & Hunink, M. M.

Year: 2015

Title: Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs

Summary: This is a research paper that (at the time of writing) had been retracted by PLOS ONE.

“In light of the methodological issue and concerns about the validity of the study’s results, the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article. We regret that these issues were not fully addressed prior to the article’s publication.”

An extensive explanation of the reasons behind the retraction are published on the Plos One website which can be reached by following the link below.

Link: https://journals.plos.org

Compassionate meditation creates a positive outlook

Train in compassion to create a more positive outlook.

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Regular compassion-based meditation linked to positive and caring thoughts

Authors: Jazaieri, H., Lee, I. A., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R.

Year: 2016

Title: A wandering mind is a less caring mind: Daily experience sampling during compassion meditation training.

Summary: The concept of mind wandering is well known to all of us. It’s the kind of drifting off that we experience when we are not concentrating on a specific activity or goal, people also call it daydreaming or spontaneous thought. If we have a challenging task that requires our full attention we tend to do little or no mind wandering, and conversely, when we are mind wandering we are much less able to concentrate on a task. The two neural networks responsible for task functions and mind wandering respectively are thought to be negatively correlated, when one is more active the other in more passive and vice versa. The benefits of better concentration and task performance are obvious, but we are starting to see that mind wandering may also have a key role to play in our health and wellbeing. This study is one of the few investigations into meditation that acknowledges that mind wandering may have a positive role to play in our lives.

This study investigated the effects of nine weeks of compassion training on 51 adults. As part of my own research into meditation and mind wandering, I have revisited the paper. There are two conclusions that I’d like to draw your attention to. Firstly that the meditation was linked to a decline in mind wandering to neutral topics but an increase towards pleasant topics. That meditation can lead to decreased mind wandering is well known, the highlight of this study is that meditation seemed to change the type of mind wandering. This is highly suggestive that mind wandering has both a qualitative and quantitative aspect. That some forms of mind wandering might actually be beneficial in some way, therefore suppressing mind wandering generally might not of itself be a useful target of any wellbeing intervention.

The evidence that compassionate meditation can naturally draw the mind away from the negative and towards the positive could have profound implications for our health. Mind wandering is spontaneous, it’s not consciously constructed if compassionate meditation leads to a natural increase in positive thoughts, it indicates an association with a range of other cognitive processes. This view is supported by a second finding from the research, that compassionate meditation is linked to augmentation in caring behaviours for oneself and others.

Link:  www.tandfonline.com

 

Putting the Meditator at the Centre of the Research

Meditators know the most about meditation, if science ignores them they miss a trick.

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(The research is now complete, thanks to all who participated)

Do you meditate or practice mindfulness?

I am currently undertaking an academic survey into meditation and wellbeing. I would like to ask meditators over the age of 18 to complete a short anonymous questionnaire about their practice (it should take around ten minutes). The research has been ethically approved and conforms to all the usual academic norms.

This important research seeks to capture the meditation and mindfulness experience of practitioners of different levels of experience and backgrounds. Based on meditators self reported insights, this projects follows recent signposts in contemplative science putting greater emphasis on the experiential nature of mindfulness and meditation.

Regards

SGM

Reliability in the Definition of Mindfulness

Definitions of mindfulness – MBSR, MBCT

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Title: On Some Definitions of Mindfulness

Author: Rupert Gethin

Year: 2011

Summary: Rupert Gethin cites Rhys Davids as the first person to translate the concept of mindfulness from the Pali sati or the Sanskrit smrti, although he stresses subsequent difficulties in finding a workable definition of the term. According to Gethin, Nyanaponika’s definition appears to have been particularly influential in providing an acceptable explanation, particularly within the MBSR and MBCT approaches to meditation. However he argues that the Theravāda exposition of mindfulness may include elements not immediately explicit in either MBSR or MBCT; concerns are also raised over the use and understanding of the term ‘non-judgmental’. In conclusion Gethin suggests that westernized approaches to Buddhism may have contributed to a ‘succinct’ definition of mindfulness, and that the clinical applications of MBSR and MBCT may lead to further understanding of mindfulness and the implications for its practice.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, religious studies, contemporary Buddhism

Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14639947.2011.564843