Conceptual and Methodological Challenges in Mindfulness and Meditation Research


Title: Conceptual and methodological issues in research on mindfulness and meditation.

Authors: Davidson, Richard J.; Kaszniak, Alfred W.

Year: 2015

Summary: Notwithstanding over 45 years of research into meditation there are growing concerns about conceptual and methodological challenges in this field. There are both similar and different issues facing meditation and mindfulness but three particular questions this paper discusses are:

  • How can the first person experience be understood and studied in contemplative science?
  • Is there a reliable and consistent understanding of terms within meditation and mindfulness research?
  • What tools can be used to overcome conceptual and methodological challenges to gathering and interpreting data?

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, social psychology


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The Origins of MBSR; Zen and Mindfulness


Title: Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps

Author: Jon Kabat-Zinn

Year: 2011

Summary: In this frank an open exposition of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s development of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) system, readers are given an insight into the background and conditions under which the MBSR concept was transposed. I use the term ‘transposed’ because that appears to be the essence of how Kabat-Zinn positions his work in the context of his experience and knowledge of Zen Buddhism. In this paper he stresses that MBSR and other systems in the mindfulness family should be integrated and consistent with the Buddhadharma (authentic teachings of Buddhism) but not constrained by the historical, cultural and religious phenomenon that exist in the societies where the Buddhadharma has been preserved and may still flourish.

Kabat-Zinn reveals his own close connection with the Zen one thousand year view and this insight perhaps gives a clue to the current academic debate whether the understanding of mindfulness as expressed in MBSR actually reflects mindfulness in Buddhism more generally. Mindfulness in its broader meaning is given a prominent role in this paper and Kabat-Zinn shares his compassionate vision regarding the benefits of the continued growth in the ‘mindfulness’ movement.

Perspective: Health psychology, religious studies,


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Mindfulness Meta-study Reveals Conflicting Findings


Title: Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,

Authors: M Goyal, S Singh, EM Sibinga, NF Gould, A Rowland-Seymour, R Sharma, Z Berger, D Sleicher, DD Maron, HM Shihab, PD Ranasinghe, S Linn, S Saha, EB Bass, JA Haythornthwaite

Year: 2014

Summary: In this meta-analysis the effectiveness of meditation programs to impact on stress related outcomes was investigated. Randomized clinical trials where meditation was used by adult clinical populations to reduce the effect of conditions including; anxiety, perceived quality of life, depression, substance use, stress and distress were studied. The analysis included 47 trials with 3515 participants and indicated that mindfulness meditation training delivered moderate evidence of lower anxiety levels, depression and experience of pain and low evidence of improvements to stress, and distress levels. The research found little evidence that meditation had any significant impact on: eating habits, sleep, attention, substance use or positive mood. In conclusion the study found that meditation offered no greater benefit than other active treatments such as drugs, exercise or therapeutic intervention.

Perspective: Health psychology, medicine


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Reliability in the Definition of Mindfulness


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


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Problems in the Definition of Mindfulness


Title: Is mindfulness present-centred and non-judgmental? A discussion of the cognitive dimensions of mindfulness

Author: Georges Dreyfus

Year: 2011

Summary: Among the issues that are publicly manifesting in the research of ‘mindfulness’ are fundamental problems achieving reliable and consistent understandings of the term itself. Definitions of mindfulness are becoming an increasingly thorny issue both as a cognitive process as well as a soteriological path. Some accounts of mindfulness express the concept as ‘present-centered non-judgmental awareness’, a view that that is challenged in this critique by Georges Dreyfus. Dreyfus argues that the essence of mindfulness is connected to the phenomenon of ‘sustained attention’ and can, to some extent engage evaluative processes. Whilst acknowledging merit in the modern definitions of mindfulness, this essay highlights significant discrepancies with traditional Buddhist accounts and more general uncertainty regarding the wider theoretical understanding.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, contemporary Buddhism, religious studies



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Does Meditation Need a Social Context?


Author: Laurence J. Kirmayer

Year: 2015

Title: Mindfulness in Cultural Context

Summary: Whilst western psychology has acknowledged the strong relationship that exists between the mindfulness movement and Buddhism. There appears to be a limited appreciation of the implications of social context in understanding either the traditional Buddhist or western approaches to mindfulness.

Perspective: Psychotherapy


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Investigating the Phenomenological Matrix of Mindfulness-Related Practices from a Neurocognitive Perspective


Title: Investigating the Phenomenological Matrix of Mindfulness-Related Practices from a Neurocognitive Perspective

Authors: Antoine Lutz, Amishi P. Jha, John D. Dunne, Clifford D. Saron

Year: 2015

Summary: This review of research into mindfulness summarises a significant amount of recent nonclinical investigation into the subject. It presents mindfulness as a series of different but related practices which cover diverse phenomena. It highlights the broad spectrum of mindfulness and how it is understood from both spiritual and secular perspectives. This paper expresses the complex nature of mindfulness meditation within ‘a multidimensional phenomenological matrix which itself can be expressed in a neurocognitive framework’. Opportunities and approaches for new research in the general area of mindfulness are suggested. Several important and under researched concerns are raised in this investigation, and calls for a greater understanding of the ethical and axiological contexts are particularly welcome. This work may in due course prove to be an important milestone in the research of meditation in general and mindfulness in particular.

Perspective: Neurocognitive, phenomenological, cognitive psychology



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Challenges in Researching Mindfulness


Authors: Richard J. Davidson, Alfred W. Kaszniak

Year: 2015

Title: Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Research on Mindfulness and Meditation

Summary: As western psychological investigation into meditation and mindfulness increases, concerns are being raised about how to understand and integrate the wide ranging findings that are being published. Mindfulness is a very general term for one meditative approach which can include a number of distinct psychological phenomena. This paper discusses the conceptual and methodological difficulties in researching this area. Addressing the challenges of creating and subsequently evaluating findings, which by their very nature may only be fully appreciated in the first person.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology, neuroscience



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Mindfulness Practice Leads To Increases in Regional Brain Grey Matter Density


Author: Britta K. Hölzela, James Carmodyc, Mark Vangela, Christina Congletona, Sita M. Yerramsettia, Tim Garda, Sara W. Lazara

Year: 2011

Title: Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density

Summary: An investigation into the neural mechanisms that may be impacted by the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) form of mindfulness meditation.  16 participants with no prior experience of meditation were put through an eight week MSBR training programme. Any changes to grey matter concentration within the MBSR group were investigated and compared to the control group. Analyses indicated the MBSR group experienced increased grey matter in the left hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. The findings suggest a potential relationship between the practice of MBSR and changes to concentration of grey matter in parts of the brain connected to learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Perspective: Neuroscience


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The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Time Perception

pexels-photo-745365.jpegAuthor: Robin S.S. Kramer, Ulrich W. Weger, Dinkar Sharma

Year: 2013

Title: The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception

Summary: Research based on the hypothesis that because mindfulness meditation focuses on living in the moment, practitioners’ perception of time would be changed compared to a control group. In a within-subject design experiment, participants carried out temporal bisection tasks. Results indicated that the perception of time duration of the experimental group was altered via attentional processes.

Perspective: Cognitive psychology,  neuroscience


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