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Psychologists from City University London discussed their work into mindfulness treatments and behavioural therapies at the launch of a new research centre.
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New study to investigate how mindfulness training can improve wellbeing

Study hopes to test the theory that mindfulness meditation alleviates mental health symptoms by changing the way our brains process bodily information

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Researchers from City, University of London, in partnership with the mental health charity Mind (City and Hackney), are investigating the mechanisms by which mindfulness meditation and training can improve well-being.

The study hopes to test the theory that mindfulness meditation alleviates mental health symptoms by changing the way our brains process bodily information, and also by improving our abilities to regulate attention, emotion and self-awareness.

The research will involve participants undertaking a free eight week mindfulness training course delivered by a highly experienced teacher from Mind and a series of lab tests.

People who struggle with psychological distress tend to filter out relevant sensory and body-focussed information in favour of a ‘biased’ awareness of negative thoughts and discomfort.  However, mindfulness meditation has been shown to re-train our ability to control our attention, thus disengaging the mind from bias toward negative experiences.

Mindfulness training is often taught in a group setting over eight weeks and is becoming a widely used treatment for a variety of mental and physical health conditions. It is a practice of focussing our minds on our breathing and our internal bodily sensations, including thoughts and feelings. In mindfulness we learn to notice when our mind starts wandering or becomes distracted and to bring our attention back to the present moment again and again, without judging ourselves and without reacting.

While mindfulness is becoming increasing popular and widespread, there is a need to develop more in-depth and specified understanding of how mindfulness-based interventions enhance emotional wellbeing via neurobiological and psychological mechanisms of emotional self-awareness, attentional control and self-regulation.  

To date, there have been few studies examining the role of bodily perception and attention, enhanced by mindfulness training, in improving psychological and physical wellbeing. Additionally, few mindfulness studies have investigated mechanisms of change nor have they compared subjective and objective measures of neurobiological and psychological health.

As a result, this new City study aims to see how self-reported measures of mental health align with physiological measurements before and after an eight week mindfulness training course. In the future the researchers hope to use the results to adapt future interventions to target specific clinical issues.

To further investigate its effects, the team will randomly allocate up to 80 healthy working adults and students to an initial mindfulness group or to a waiting list control group. The waitlist control group will receive the mindfulness training several weeks after the initial intervention group. The study will employ the eight week standardised mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive therapy (MBCT) hybrid training program delivered by a highly experienced mindfulness therapist from the local Mind branch (City and Hackney).

Hana Villar, a PhD student from the Department of Psychology at City and Clinical Director of Mind (City and Hackney) who is running the research study, said:

“With this new study, and the exciting collaboration between City University and Mind in City and Hackney, we are hoping to explore the ‘active ingredients’ of Mindfulness interventions and how mindfulness training can improve psychological and physical wellbeing.  We are keen to examine in particular how the body reacts to practicing Mindfulness meditation on a regular basis. There is currently a lack of interdisciplinary research in this area, so hopefully our study can shed some light on how mindfulness works and demonstrate the cognitive and emotional effects of mindfulness training.”

The research team is affiliated with City’s Centre for Psychological Wellbeing & Neuroscience, and includes Professor Bettina Forster, Dr. Paul Flaxman, Dr Sebastian Gaigg and Hana Villar, MSc.

The free evening Mindfulness course will be starting on Wednesday 3rd May or alternatively an evening course in July or Sep 2017 is avaliable (your preference).  Each Mindfulness class will last approx. 2 hours and will also involve home practice. Lab sessions will take place in late April and again in late June.  If you are interested, please contact hana.villar.1@city.ac.uk.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.