Research Supporting Mindfulness Is Surprisingly Lacking

Mindfulness seems to be one of the most hyped-up health trends right now. But does it actually work?

Unfortunately, many psychologists are afraid that some of the claims made by proponents of mindfulness aren’t supported by real research. In fact, it became such a problem that recently 15 respected psychologists and cognitive scientists published an article detailing all of the issues with current assertions. Many of the studies used lacked a standard definition of what “mindfulness” really is, as it has both religious and secular influences. Additionally, there are methodical issues in these studies due to a lack of standardization and some of them are simply poorly designed.

Many of the studies don’t have control groups, which are crucial in ruling out the placebo effect. In fact, only around 9% of all the studies had control groups. A 2014 review of 47 meditation trials found basically no evidence to support claims that mindfulness improved attention, helped with substance abuse, alleviated sleeping problems or helped manage weight. Put all that together and only about 1% of several thousand articles and studies complied with the “gold standards” of medical research.  More studies that fit standard research procedure (randomization, control groups, larger samples) are essential for determining with certainty whether mindfulness really lives up to all the “benefits” individuals are claiming it produces.

There’s another issue which also raises doubt about the validity of these claims: capitalism.

Meditation-related businesses generated about $984 million in revenue in 2015 and they now generate about 1.1 billion. You can buy everything from aromatherapy spheres ($35) to a personalized “mindfulness and activity tracker” ($130). It can be hard to tell whether companies truly believe these methods work or if they’re just trying to capitalize on the latest health trend to maximize their profits.

However, even with the science lacking, mindfulness can be beneficial. There is some evidence which shows it really can help with anxiety and depression. Daniel Goleman, the Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, found that research on mindfulness correlates it to four benefits: better focus, staying calmer under stress, improved memory and “good corporate citizenship.” Goleman also contends that “improved broader emotional intelligence” is what really spurns these effects in the workplace, and that without this emotional intelligence, mindfulness doesn’t work.

The fact is this: lacking research means it’s impossible to determine the validity of these claims. As a clinical psychologist and research fellow, Nicholas Van Dam states that “the scientific rigor just isn’t there yet to be making these big claims.

Image: US News Health

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Emma Fairfield is a writer from Houston, TX. She enjoys exploring issues related to economics, media, and public policy. Her cultural icons are Oscar Wilde and Laverne Cox.

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