A characteristic derived from meditation practices could make people more receptive to health campaigns, a recent study by the Annenberg School for Communication suggests.
Annenberg School for Communication professor Emily Falk led the study that demonstrates a positive correlation between a sedentary person's “mindfulness” and his or her self-reported “vigorous physical activity” after exposure to media content that encouraged them to exercise.
Mindfulness has been pervasive in the news recently, with outlets reporting how it can "quell negative thoughts," and even providing mindfulness "hacks" to live a better life. An Atlantic article even covers "how to be mindful while reading mindfulness articles."
Yoona Kang, a post-doctoral researcher at Annenberg who assisted Falk with the project, defined mindfulness as “awareness and attention to the present moment” — that is, an absence of mindlessness and an ability to be immersed in a given environment.
The idea of mindfulness, Kang said, is derived from Buddhist meditation and has been translated to Western science without its “religious baggage.” To achieve a state of mindfulness, an individual can focus on his or her breathing to feel more present.
According to the published research report, earlier studies have shown some benefits of mindfulness on sleep schedules, eating habits and general well-being. The report attributed this to mindful individuals' heightened ability to internalize media content that promotes these behaviors and to not feel defensive when messages suggest they change their habits.
Falk's study, however, did not concern this type of mindfulness gained from experiences like mediation. Instead, it dealt with the “dispositional mindfulness," which is innate in your personality.
The participants in the study completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale to measure their dispositional mindfulness. They responded to statements such as, “It seems I am ‘running on automatic.’"
“The main goal of the study was to figure out why some people are more open to health messages whereas others aren’t,” Kang said. “We are bombarded with all these health messages from doctors and from media, but it seems like some people can take it better than others."
The researchers hypothesized that dispositional mindfulness could be a factor in this. One example, Kang explained, is when a non-mindful smoker hears an anti-smoking message, he or she may become defensive and ignore the message altogether. As the research report emphasizes, studies that investigate ways to improve at-risk people’s responses to health messages are important so that this information can impact the right population.
With mindfulness serving as a predictor of positive behavioral change in this research, Kang explained some possible next steps involve spreading the benefits of mindfulness. For instance, governmental health programs could encourage people to take brief periods of time to follow their breath and thus become more mindful. She likened it to “sending your brain to the gym."
The research report notes that there is some speculation to this result — it’s possible that mindfulness inherent in one’s personality does not have the same effect as that derived from meditation. This would become clearer with more research, the report adds.