Mindfulness helps people feel less defensive when exposed to important health messages — such as “stop smoking so you can live longer” — and more likely to be motivated to make changes, according to a new study by researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mindfulness is defined as having awareness of the present moment and calmly and objectively acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts and situation. Mindfulness has been shown in previous studies to reduce negative reactions to emotionally charged situations.
“Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways, so we investigated factors, including mindfulness, that could potentially influence people to be more receptive to health messages and more motivated to change their behavior,” said senior author Emily Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School.
For the study, minimal exercisers were exposed to a variety of health messages. The researchers then observed the reactions of the participants to the health messages, recorded their motivation (or lack thereof) to change their behavior, and later inquired as to whether the participants had actually changed their behavior.
To measure how mindful each person was in their daily life, the researchers asked each participant to complete the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS). The MAAS is composed of 15 scenarios, including “I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time” and “I tend to walk quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience along the way,” that are answered on a scale of one to six, ranging from “almost always” to “almost never.” The higher a person’s total score, the more mindful that person is considered to be.
The findings show that people with lower levels of mindfulness were less likely to make positive changes in behavior in response to the health messages.
“Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves,” said Falk, “and that didn’t help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn’t help us have a healthier, happier population.”
People who were more mindful, however, reacted less negatively to health messages and were less likely to feel ashamed by them. These people, in turn, were also more likely to change their behavior to be healthier.
The new findings add to the growing body of literature on the health benefits of mindfulness.
“Individuals may benefit from cultivating mindful attention when processing potentially threatening yet beneficial health information,” said lead author Dr. Yoona Kang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School “It’s possible that incorporating mindfulness cultivation into existing intervention strategies can promote more widespread positive health behavior.”
The study is published in the journal Mindfulness.
Source: University of Pennsylvania