Have the Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation Been Over-Hyped?

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-25 03:33

Scientists say that there’s a surprising lack of evidence that mindfulness meditation works the way many say it does.



There’s a lot of hype surrounding mindfulness--perhaps even too much hype. In fact, mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry in the US, marketed to have a wide range of benefits. Many people have claimed that mindfulness can help ease anxiety, depression, stress, and pain. It can apparently also improve cognitive functions and keep our chromosomes young. People also claim that mindfulness can help induce sleep, reduce weight, and even remedy substance abuse. Thus, many people put a lot of stock on mindfulness; the question now, however, is whether or not these claims are factual.


According to a team of 15 meditation experts, psychologists, and neuroscientists, there is a lack of scientific evidence proving many of the claims about mindfulness. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been studies on the topic; it’s just that there are certain problems with these studies that make their findings doubtful.

Problematic Studies



Mindfulness, in general, is focusing on your present and your state of mind. This may entail paying close attention to things in your surroundings, to your breathing, to your emotions, or even to that meal you just dug into.


According to a new report, the way many studies on mindfulness meditation were designed had significant design flaws. One glaring flaw is the lack of a singular definition of what mindfulness is. This by itself is already a significant problem. However, these studies also lack a control group, which casts a shadow of doubtfulness over their findings.


In fact, only 9% of studies on mindfulness were clinical trials that involved a control group. Placebo-controlled meta-analyses also indicate that the results of mindfulness are somewhat unimpressive. 47 meditation trials have also been found to lack sufficient evidence to support claims that mindfulness can improve attention, help induce sleep, curb substance abuse, and help control weight.


According to the authors of the new report, mindfulness is being over-hyped and oversold. Worryingly, less than 25% of mindfulness studies include monitoring of potential side effects.


However, this doesn’t mean that mindfulness is completely unsupported by scientific evidence. One study from 2014 found that there’s sufficient evidence to support claims that mindfulness has modest effects on depression, anxiety, and pain.

The Roots of Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism.



Two other studies from the previous month also provide sufficient evidence on the effects of mindfulness. The first study found that mindfulness can reduce self-perceived stress, but not stress induced by the stress hormone cortisol. The second study, meanwhile, found a link between attention training and the thickness of the prefrontal cortex. This second study, according to the authors of the report, is sound but still needs expanding.


One glaring problem, however, still remains: defining mindfulness. There have been many mindfulness-like approaches that have been the subject of many studies. This makes comparisons between the studies complicated. According to the report’s authors, “[there is] neither one universally accepted technical definition of ‘mindfulness’ nor any broad agreement about detailed aspects of the underlying concept to which it refers.”


However, if we return to the actual roots of mindfulness meditation, we may find that it’s essentially a personal experience.

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