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More Mindfulness in science?

by Bruno Van de Casteele

December 22, 2013

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Donate Mindfulness. Yes I wrote about it earlier (a first dip, and then a solid three parter 1 2 3), and analysed if there was some science in it. In short: probably yes but the field needs some work to get its theoretical paradigm together.

That doesn't stop the application and popularity (dare I say "hype"?) of it. So here some pointers to articles that appeared around the Internet the past couple of months.

Mindful Birthing: Valerie Reis at the Huffington Post read the book Mindful Birthing and wrote what the technique meant to her. Yes, that book actually exists and gets 5-star reviews on Amazon. The book is written byNancy Bardacke. Interestingly, she claims to have been thought by the "master" himself,Jon Kabat-Zinn. This sounds a bit like guru-genealogy (like in psychoanalysis). Bardackeapplies the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to the process of birthing. And at the same time rearing children. As I said before, it works in certain cases, but isn't necessarily a one-technique-fits-all. I remain skeptical about this, especially during labor. Or as my wife put it (an expert in the matter): "as if you have time for that!"

Mindfulness and infertility: in a related domain, blogger Jessica T wrote about the training she followed. Having herself problems conceiving, she went to a support group at the Stanford Hospital, and claims that she and several in her support group got pregnant weeks after the conclusion of the ten-week program. For good measure: the stated goal on the Stanford Hospital is to organise a support group (mindfulness-based stress reduction), not improve fertility. I'll chalk this one up to anecdotical evidence, but I'm sure such support groups do good work. No hard scientific evidence however.

Downside of mindfulness: Within my weekly followup of mindfulness articles I found the odd one out: on the Mother Nature Network, Stephanie Pappas pointed to a new study that warns that "too much attention can inhibit implicit learning". The study was done by Chelsea Stillman and was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
It's very preliminary (only 18 subjects!), and suggests that people high on the MAAS (one of the seven or so different mindfulness measuring scales) score low on implicit learning tasks.
The task itself was simple (which one of four circles fills up on a screen), but certain patterns repeated itself during the test. The idea then would be that the same technique that helps escape the spiral of negative thoughts (one of the main areas where mindfulness really works), also inhibit recognising certain patterns that repeat.It is interesting, but let's not rush. It's preliminary and the effect might very well disappear with a larger sample size. And I might by guilty of selection bias: selecting the one article that helps my skepticism about the whole thing. So to be continued...

In short, mindfulness is not going away, and weird applications are still rampant. It shows a lot of potential, but still needs to get its theoretical framework in order. And there might be, maybe, disadvantages ...

To celebrate my one year of blogging at Skeptoid, I’m revisiting this month some of the topics I discussed here during the last year. Not necessarily a follow-up, but a way to show that science keeps progressing. Because, you know, science actually works!

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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