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Impact of Mindfulness on Stress, Behavior: Belot Research

A young man practices yoga in his living room.

Online mindfulness training reduced stress and anxiety, but did not affect economic decisions involving risk or patience, according to research published in Plos One by ILR Professor Michèle Belot and three colleagues.

“Mind training, stress and behaviour—A randomised experiment” assigned half of a group of 139 University of Edinburgh students to a four-week on-line mindfulness program and half to a control group that watched the “BBC Ancient World” documentaries for four weeks.

Repeated online “Be Mindful” exercises of meditation, breathing and yoga proved as comparable in reducing perceived stress, anxiety and depression as face-to-face mindfulness courses and treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, the researchers reported in the paper, published in November.

The research team members were Yonas Alem of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Hannahg Behrendt of the Behavioural Insights Team, United Kingdom; Anikó Bíró of the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungary, and Belot.

Using self-reported survey measures of stress and anxiety, the researchers found evidence that mindfulness training reduced perceived stress.

They examined the impact of mindfulness training on economic decision-making, and, specifically, its impact on choices that involve intertemporal trade-offs and patience, as well as choices that involve risk and uncertainty.

“Mindfulness is meant to train self-control and, as a consequence, could have the potential to affect decision-making as individuals may make decisions in a less impulsive and more reflective manner. More self-controlled individuals are less likely to succumb to immediate temptations,” Belot said.

The researchers did not find that the training affected decision-making processes.

Belot answered these questions about the research:

What is the biggest takeaway?

“Mindfulness appears to be a valuable tool to reduce stress and anxiety, but it is not sufficient to alter decision-making processes, at least when the training occurs at an adult age.”

Were any of the findings particularly surprising?

“One could have expected mindfulness to affect decision-making as we know there is a correlation between self-control and decisions involving intertemporal trade-offs and immediate temptations.”

Behavioral economics research can inspire policies that improve people’s lives. How do you see these findings contributing to policy?

“I think this study was just a first step in studying the scope for training the mind and helping individuals to make better decisions.”

How does this research fit into your overall stream of research?

“I am generally interested in interventions helping people to make choices that are more in line with their own goals and aspirations. Identifying which tools can help individuals is part of my broad research agenda.”

What’s next on your research agenda?

“I am interested in testing interventions around behavioral change in general. I think the challenge is to find interventions people are willing to engage with and that can really help achieving long-term changes. I am interested in exploring interventions that are more attractive for individuals to engage with.”

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