Research has identified many benefits that result from mindfulness practice. Below are examples of selected studies which show how mindfulness can be of benefit in the key areas that the Inner Edge program is centred on.
Focus and Effectiveness
Research has shown that mindfulness practice can help to keep practitioners to task, perform better under time pressure and sustain attention in extreme circumstances. Neuroscientists are now beginning to look at this area too. Some examples of research in this area are shown below:
Keeping to task – A 2012 US study examined how meditation training affected individuals’ behaviour in multitasking at work. Researchers tested three groups: (1) those who underwent an 8-week training course on mindfulness-based meditation, (2) those who endured a wait period, were tested, and then underwent the same 8-week training, and (3) those who had 8-weeks of training in body relaxation. The researchers found that, compared with the people who didn’t meditate “those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance.” ¹
Perform well under time pressure – A US experiment found that just four days of mindfulness training for just 20 minutes per day could help on a battery of cognitive tests. The researchers discovered that the mindfulness meditation practitioners performed particularly well on tasks with time constraints, suggesting that mindfulness could be useful for any of us who have to work to deadlines too. ²
Sustain Attention – American researchers taught mindfulness to marines whose lives depend on being able to reason quickly in extremely stressful environments. The soldiers learned mindfulness practices during a particularly stressful time, just before deployment in Iraq. The research focused on what’s called “working memory capacity”: our ability to retain thoughts in our mind and manipulate them. As expected under these stressful circumstances, the scientists found that those marines who weren’t taught to meditate had a diminished working memory capacity. However, they found that those who meditated, on average, for more than 10 minutes a day over the 8-week period, not only managed to maintain their working memory capacity, but actually improved their ability! ³
Brain Changes – After 11 hours of meditation Neuroscientists have found that there are changes visible in the part of the brain involved in focus and self control. 4
In 2012, the first study to document the link between creativity and mindfulness was carried out by scientists from the University of Groningen and North Dakota State University. They studied a large number of volunteers to identify if mindfulness affects awareness and the filtering out of other mental processes during creative tasks. The researchers found that mindfulness practice improved “insight” problem solving, which is “seeing” and solving problems in a novel way. 5
This was followed by research in Israel. The researchers here studied the effects of mindfulness on ‘cognitive rigidity’ and found that participants in mindfulness training were significantly less rigid in their thinking than the control group. They concluded that mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity by reducing the tendency to be ‘blinded’ by experience and to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding to situations. 6 Freeing participants to be more flexible and open minded to finding new solutions.
Stress and Resilience
There is a large research base showing that a systematic programme of mindfulness exercises coupled with self practice has a statistically significant effect in reducing anxiety and depression in practitioners. For example, a randomised controlled study of breast cancer sufferers in Denmark in 2013 showed that participants in an 8 week mindfulness course experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression compared to the control group. 7
In addition, recent studies have shown changes in the brain structure post mindfulness practice that indicate that the practice is supporting increased activity in those areas of the brain involved in relaxation and decreased activity in the areas of the brain involved in stress and anxiety. For example, a Study by neuroscientists at Stanford found that participants in an 8 week mindfulness course had increased activity in the ‘Rest and Digest’ centre of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) and lowered activity in the ‘Fight of Flight’ part of the brain (the amygdala) 8 . Whilst neuroscientists at Harvard found that participants in a mindfulness course had a higher density of neurons in the pre frontal cortex after the course and a reduced density of neurons in the amygdala. 9
1 Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. & Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. 2 Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition. 19 3 Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. 4 Tang, Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107. 5 Ostafin, B. & Kassman, K. (2012). Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition. 21, 2. 1031 – 1036. 6 Greenberg, J., Reiner, K. & Meiran, N. (2012). “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity. 7, 5. 7 Wurtzen, Dalton et al April 2013 Mindfulness significantly reduces self reported levels of anxiety and depression. 8 Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.9 Hölzel, B., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S., Gard, T. & Lazar, S. (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Neuroimaging. 191. 36-43.