Each month the Levy Library showcases the achievements of Mount Sinai faculty and researchers by highlighting an article and its altmetrics. Altmetrics are alternative measures of impact that capture non-traditional data like abstract views, article downloads, and social media activity.
This month we highlight Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation, written by a team of researchers including Mount Sinai’s Nicholas Van Dam, Researcher with the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Citation: Volume: 13 issue: 1, page(s): 36-61. Article first published online: October 10, 2017; Issue published: January 1, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617709589. Nicholas T. Van Dam, Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford D. Saron, Andrew Olendzki, Ted Meissner, Sara W. Lazar, Catherine E. Kerr, Jolie Gorchov, Kieran C. R. Fox, Brent A. Field, Willoughby B. Britton, Julie A. Brefczynski-Lewis, David E. Meyer
During the past two decades, mindfulness meditation has gone from being a fringe topic of scientific investigation to being an occasional replacement for psychotherapy, tool of corporate well-being, widely implemented educational practice, and “key to building more resilient soldiers.” Yet the mindfulness movement and empirical evidence supporting it have not gone without criticism. Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed. Addressing such concerns, the present article discusses the difficulties of defining mindfulness, delineates the proper scope of research into mindfulness practices, and explicates crucial methodological issues for interpreting results from investigations of mindfulness. For doing so, the authors draw on their diverse areas of expertise to review the present state of mindfulness research, comprehensively summarizing what we do and do not know, while providing a prescriptive agenda for contemplative science, with a particular focus on assessment, mindfulness training, possible adverse effects, and intersection with brain imaging. Our goals are to inform interested scientists, the news media, and the public, to minimize harm, curb poor research practices, and staunch the flow of misinformation about the benefits, costs, and future prospects of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is an umbrella term used to characterize a large number of practices, processes, and characteristics, largely defined in relation to the capacities of attention, awareness, memory/retention, and acceptance/discernment. While the term has its historical footing in Buddhism, it has achieved wide-ranging popularity in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, neuroscience, and beyond, initially through its central role in mindfulness-based stress reduction —an intervention/training “package” introduced in the late 1970s as a complementary therapy for medically ailing individuals. The term mindfulness began to gain traction among scientists, clinicians, and scholars as the Mind and Life Institute emerged in 1987 and facilitated formal regular dialogues between the Dalai Lama and prominent scientists and clinicians, as well as regular summer research meetings, the latter starting in 2004 . In the early 2000s, mindfulness saw an exponential growth trajectory that continues to this day. The term mindfulness has a plethora of meanings; a reflection of its incredible popularity alongside some preliminary support, considerable misinformation and misunderstanding, as well as a general lack of methodologically rigorous research...
Contemplative psychological scientists and neuroscientists, along with other researchers who study mental processes and brain mechanisms underlying the practice of mindfulness and related types of meditation, have a considerable amount of work to make meaningful progress. Much work should go toward improving the rigor of methods used, along with the accuracy of news media publicity and eliminating public misunderstandings caused by past undue “mindfulness hype.” These efforts have to take place on several related fronts....
Only with such diligent multipronged future endeavors may we hope to surmount the prior misunderstandings and past harms caused by pervasive mindfulness hype that has accompanied the contemplative science movement.
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