Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive

by Emma Seppälä, Kim Cameron

Too many companies bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success.

But a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, what cutthroat organizations fail to recognize is the hidden costs incurred.

First, health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50% greater than at other organizations. The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. Sixty percent to 80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress, and it’s estimated that more than 80% of doctor visits are due to stress. Workplace stress has been linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease and mortality.

The stress of belonging to hierarchies itself is linked to disease and death. One study showed that, the lower someone’s rank in a hierarchy, the higher their chances of cardiovascular disease and death from heart attacks. In a large-scale study of over 3,000 employees conducted by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease in employees. Stress-producing bosses are literally bad for the heart.

Second is the cost of disengagement. While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term. Engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture.

And disengagement is costly. In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time. Importantly, businesses with highly engaged employees enjoyed 100% more job applications.

Lack of loyalty is a third cost. Research shows that workplace stress leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover. People go on the job market, decline promotions, or resign. And the turnover costs associated with recruiting, training, lowered productivity, lost expertise, and so forth, are significant. The Center for American Progress estimates that replacing a single employee costs approximately 20% of that employee’s salary.

For these reasons, many companies have established a wide variety of perks from working from home to office gyms. However, these companies still fail to take into account the research. A Gallup pollshowed that, even when workplaces offered benefits such as flextime and work-from-home opportunities, engagement predicted wellbeing above and beyond anything else. Employees prefer workplace wellbeing to material benefits.

Wellbeing comes from one place, and one place only — a positive culture.

Creating a positive and healthy culture for your team rests on a few major principles. Our own research (see here and here) on the qualities of a positive workplace culture boils down to six essential characteristics:

  • Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
  • Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
  • Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes.
  • Inspiring one another at work.
  • Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

As a boss, how can you foster these principles? The research points to four steps to try:

1. Foster social connections. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job. Conversely, researchby Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine, found that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but a whopping 70% higher for people with poor social relationships. Toxic, stress-filled workplaces affect social relationships and, consequently, life expectancy.

2. Show empathy. As a boss, you have a huge impact on how your employees feel. A telling brain-imaging study found that, when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion while the opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss. Moreover, Jane Dutton and her colleagues in the CompassionLab at the University of Michigan suggest that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees foster individual and collective resilience in challenging times.

3. Go out of your way to help. Ever had a manager or mentor who took a lot of trouble to help you when he or she did not have to? Chances are you have remained loyal to that person to this day.  Jonathan Haidt at New York University’s Stern School of Business shows in his research  that when leaders are not just fair but self-sacrificing, their employees are actually moved and inspired to become more loyal and committed themselves. As a consequence, they are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees, thus creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Daan Van Knippenberg of Rotterdam School of Management shows that employees of self-sacrificing leaders are more cooperative because they trust their leaders more. They are also more productive and see their leaders as more effective and charismatic.

4. Encourage people to talk to you – especially about their problems. Not surprisingly, trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance. Employees feel safe rather than fearful and, as research by Amy Edmondson of Harvard demonstrates in her work on psychological safety, a culture of safety i.e. in which leaders are inclusive, humble, and encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help, leads to better learning and performance outcomes. Rather than creating a culture of fear of negative consequences, feeling safe in the workplace helps encourage the spirit of experimentation so critical for innovation. Kamal Birdi of Sheffield University has shown that empowerment, when coupled with good training and teamwork, leads to superior performance outcomes whereas a range of efficient manufacturing and operations practices do not.

When you know a leader is committed to operating from a set of values based on interpersonal kindness, he or she sets the tone for the entire organization. In Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant demonstrates that leader kindness and generosity are strong predictors of team and organizational effectiveness. Whereas harsh work climates are linked to poorer employee health, the opposite is true of positive work climates where employees tend to have lower heart rates and blood pressure as well as a stronger immune systems. A positive work climate also leads to a positive workplace culture which, again, boosts commitment, engagement, and performance. Happier employees make for not only a more congenial workplace but for improved customer service. As a consequence, a happy and caring culture at work not only improves employee well-being and productivity but also improved client health outcomes and satisfaction.

In sum, a positive workplace is more successful over time because it increases positive emotions and well-being. This, in turn, improves people’s relationships with each other and amplifies their abilities and their creativity. It buffers against negative experiences such as stress, thus improving employees’ ability to bounce back from challenges and difficulties while bolstering their health. And, it attracts employees, making them more loyal to the leader and to the organization as well as bringing out their best strengths. When organizations develop positive, virtuous cultures they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement.

Editor’s note : Due to a typo, this article initially misstated the number of workdays lost due to stress each year. That number is estimated at 550 million, not 550 billion. The sentence has been corrected.


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Do “Mirror Neurons” Help Create Social Understanding?

Is the mirror system key to how social understanding is created in the brain?

Researchers from Denmark released a new study on Feb. 24 showing that specific brain cells called “mirror neurons” may help people interpret the actions they see other people perform. Mirror neurons are thought to be specialized brain cells that allow you to learn and empathize by observing the actions of another person.

The new study from Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. The research was led by postdoctoral research fellow John Michael.

The researchers were able to identify those specific brain areas involved in the production of specific actions are the same areas that contribute to understanding the identical action in others. The researchers hypothesize that the same areas are involved in producing actions and understanding others’ actions as part of the somewhat controversial “mirror neuron system.”

“The findings may be interesting to therapists and psychiatrists who work with patients with schizophrenia or autism, or even to educational researchers,” said John Michael. The researchers also believe this discovery might help people in everyday life, but emphasize the findings hold great potential when trying to understand why people with autism and schizophrenia have difficulties with social interaction.

From an athletic and coaching perspective, I have always believed that the mirror system is one of the best ways that athletes can learn from watching and emulating others. Mental rehearsal can also activate the mirror neuron system which is directly linked to the same motor neurons required to perform fine-tuned motor skills.

Are mirror neurons linked to autism and schizophrenia?

John Michael says, “attaining knowledge of the processes underlying social understanding in people in general is an important part of the process of attaining knowledge of the underlying causes of the difficulties that some people diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia experience in sustaining social understanding. But it is important to emphasize that this is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Do “Mirror Neurons” Help Create Social Understanding? - 144779 146547

Some scientists believe that mirror neurons are the foundation of the process that enables a child to learn to walk, talk, and behave like their parents or peers by emulating their actions and behavior. The mirror system may be the connection between observing a task and then imitating or duplicating that movement. The mirror system may also play a key role in how we learn to empathize with another person’s joy and pain.

From an evolutionary standpoint, mirror neurons might protect a species from repeating fatal errors observed in another, without having to die in the process. The ability to learn from other people’s triumphs and mistakes without having to experience them firsthand is a function of the mirror neuron system.

Mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys during the late 1990s. I have a section about mirror neurons in my book The Athlete’s Way. I have long believed that when you put yourself in the shoes of an athletic mentor or role model you can merge the actions and mindset of your ‘hero’ with your own mental and physical inventory using the mirror neuron system to optimize your skills and performance.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

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Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti and colleagues at the university in Parma, Italy accidentally discovered mirror neurons when they were trying to measure the motor neurons linked to specific movements when they were feeding a monkey. During the experiment in Italy, one of the researchers was standing next to a bowl of fruit and reached for a banana.

As the researcher reached for the banana, the same neurons linked to the action were activated in the monkey’s brain. Rizzolatti explains, “How could this happen, when the monkey did not move? At first we thought it to be a flaw in our measuring, or maybe equipment failure, but everything checked out okay and the reactions were repeated as we repeated the movement.”

In The Athlete’s Way I write about the belief that autism might be linked to a malfunction of the mirror system. The new study from University of Copenhagen adds evidence to this hypothesis. Using magnetic stimulation to temporarily disrupt normal processing of the areas of the human brain involved in the production of actions of human participants, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the mirror system is involved in social understanding of another person’s actions.

This may be the first study to demonstrate a clear causal effect, whereas earlier studies primarily have looked at correlations, which are difficult to interpret. John Michael, explains the process: “There has been a great deal of hype about the mirror system, and now we have performed an experiment that finally provides clear and straightforward evidence that the mirror system serves to help people make sense of others’ actions.”

Theta-Burst Stimulation Is Revolutionary

The researchers in Denmark used an innovative technique for magnetically stimulating highly specific brain areas in order to temporarily disrupt normal processing in those areas. This technique (called continuous theta-burst stimulation) makes it possible to determine which brain areas perform which functions.

For example, if you stimulate (and thus temporarily impair) area “A”, and the participants subsequently have difficulty with some specific task (task “T”), then you can infer that area “A” usually performs task “T”. The theta-burst effect goes away after 20 minutes, so this is a harmless and widely applicable way to identify which tasks are performed by which areas.

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In this study participants (20 adults) came to the lab three times. They were given brain scans on the first visit. On the second and third visit, they received stimulation to their motor system and then performed a typical psychological task in which they watched brief videos of actors pantomiming actions (about 250 videos each time). After each video they had to choose a picture of an object that matched the pantomimed video. For example, a hammer was the correct answer for the video of an actor pretending to hammer.

This task was intended to gauge their understanding of the observed actions. The researchers found that theta-burst stimulation interfered with subjects ability to identify the action. With continuous theta-burst stimulation, the researchers were able to determine that the activation of “A” contributes as a cause to people performing “T”. This revolutionary method may be of great use to neuroscientists in the coming years.

Conclusion: More Research on the Mirror Neuron System Is Needed

Although this new research on mirror neurons is exciting, there are many in the scientific community who are skeptical that mirror neurons are a distinct class of cells—as opposed to an occasional phenomenon seen in cells that have other functions. It is also not completely clear whether mirror activity is a distinct type of response or simply an artifact of an overall function of the motor system.

Ultimately, whether or not mirror neurons are actually the key to creating social understanding remains a question. That said, the ability to be empathetic and compassionate is clearly linked to specific brain areas and ‘bulking up’ the volume and connectivity of these areas is possible through lifestyle choices, daily habits, and things like mindfulness training and loving-kindness meditation (LKM).

Some neuroscientists believe that observation-execution matching systems provided by the mirror neuron system (or areas associated with it) may be the key neural mechanism that allows others’ actions, intentions, and emotions to be understood automatically.

Interestingly, neuroscientists have found that autopsies of autistic children reveal shrunken cerebellums, enlarged cerebrums, and atrophied Purkinje cells. Luckily, it is possible to bulk up the volume of the cerebellum and stimulate neurogenisis of Purkinje cells through daily physical activities.

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Understanding the stress response, Chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs health

A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.

This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur, but have also gained insight into the long-term effects chronic stress has on physical and psychological health. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).

Sounding the alarm

The stress response begins in the brain (see illustration). When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.

Command center

illustration of brain showing areas activated by stress

When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.

The hypothalamus is a bit like a command center. This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls such involuntary body functions as breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels and small airways in the lungs called bronchioles. The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.

After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. The person undergoing these changes also starts to breathe more rapidly. Small airways in the lungs open wide. This way, the lungs can take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body. These nutrients flood into the bloodstream, supplying energy to all parts of the body.

All of these changes happen so quickly that people aren’t aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain’s visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That’s why people are able to jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.

As the initial surge of epinephrine subsides, the hypothalamus activates the second component of the stress response system — known as the HPA axis. This network consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.

The HPA axis relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system — the “gas pedal” — pressed down. If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which travels to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol. The body thus stays revved up and on high alert. When the threat passes, cortisol levels fall. The parasympathetic nervous system — the “brake” — then dampens the stress response.

Techniques to counter chronic stress

Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.

Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.

Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.

Relaxation response. Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Most of the research using objective measures to evaluate how effective the relaxation response is at countering chronic stress have been conducted in people with hypertension and other forms of heart disease. Those results suggest the technique may be worth trying — although for most people it is not a cure-all. For example, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 122 patients with hypertension, ages 55 and older, in which half were assigned to relaxation response training and the other half to a control group that received information about blood pressure control. After eight weeks, 34 of the people who practiced the relaxation response — a little more than half — had achieved a systolic blood pressure reduction of more than 5 mm Hg, and were therefore eligible for the next phase of the study, in which they could reduce levels of blood pressure medication they were taking. During that second phase, 50% were able to eliminate at least one blood pressure medication — significantly more than in the control group, where only 19% eliminated their medication.

Physical activity. People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

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Frequent ‘I-Talk’ may signal proneness to emotional distress

Your friends who can’t stop talking about themselves may be telling you more than you think.

People who talk a lot about themselves are not narcissists as one might expect. Instead, those who say ‘I’ and ‘me’ a lot may be prone to depression, anxiety and other negative emotions, researchers found.

We all know someone who seems to really enjoy talking about him- or herself. Yet while the chorus of “I, I, I” and “me, me, me” might convince us we are conversing with a classic narcissist, science suggests we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

Researchers at the University of Arizona found in a 2015 study that frequent use of first-person singular pronouns — I, me and my — is not, in fact, an indicator of narcissism.

Instead, this so-called “I-talk” may signal that someone is prone to emotional distress, according to a new, follow-up UA study forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Research at other institutions has suggested that I-talk, though not an indicator of narcissism, may be a marker for depression. While the new study confirms that link, UA researchers found an even greater connection between high levels of I-talk and a psychological disposition of negative emotionality in general.

Negative emotionality refers to a tendency to easily become upset or emotionally distressed, whether that means experiencing depression, anxiety, worry, tension, anger or other negative emotions, said Allison Tackman, a research scientist in the UA Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study.

Tackman and her co-authors found that when people talk a lot about themselves, it could point to depression, but it could just as easily indicate that they are prone to anxiety or any number of other negative emotions. Therefore, I-talk shouldn’t be considered a marker for depression alone.

“The question of whether I-talk reflects depression more specifically, or negative affect more broadly, was a really important question because if you’re thinking of using I-talk as a screening tool, you want to know if it screens specifically for a risk for depression or if it screens more broadly for a tendency to experience negative affect, which is a broader risk factor for a suite of mental health concerns,” said UA psychology professor and study co-author Matthias Mehl.

The researchers’ findings are based on a large dataset of more than 4,700 individuals from six labs in two countries — the U.S. and Germany. The data included measures of individuals’ use of I-talk — either in written or spoken tasks — as well as measures of depression and negative emotionality.

“Previous research had found the one link — between I-talk and depression — but it hadn’t examined moderators in great detail in a large sample. That was the next step,” Tackman said. “Our results suggest that I-talk may not be very good at assessing depression in particular. It may be better at assessing a proneness not just to depression but to negative emotionality more broadly.”

So how much I-talk is considered a lot? The average person speaks about 16,000 words a day, about 1,400 of which are, on average, first-person singular pronouns, Mehl said. Those prone to distress may say “I, me and my” up to 2,000 times a day.

Researchers also looked at whether gender and communication context affected the relationship between I-talk and negative emotionality. They found that gender does not play an important role but communication context does.

“If you are speaking in a personal context — so you’re speaking about something that’s of relevance to you, like a recent breakup — then we see the relationship between I-talk and negative emotionality emerge,” Tackman said. “But if you’re communicating in a context that’s more impersonal, such as describing a picture, we did not see the relationship emerge.”

In addition, the researchers found that the specific type of first-person singular pronoun made a difference. Frequent use of the subjective first-person pronoun “I” and the objective first-person pronoun “me” was linked to negative emotionality, but frequent use of the first-person possessive pronoun “my” was not. That may be because “my” connects a person to another individual or object on the “outside,” effectively taking the “psychological spotlight” off the self, Tackman and Mehl said.

To better understand why I-talk may indicate distress, researchers suggest thinking back to your last “woe-as-me” moment.

“We’ve all gone through negative life events when we’re feeling down or we’re feeling anxious, and when you think back to being in those places, when you’re just so focused on yourself, you may say things like ‘Why can’t I get better?'” Tackman said. “You’re so focused on yourself that not only in your head are you using these first-person singular pronouns but when you’re talking to other people or writing, it spills into your language — the self-focus that negative affectivity brings about.”

The relationship between I-talk and negative emotionality, while present, is relatively small. However, researchers found that it’s not that much smaller than the relationship between negative emotionality and negative emotion words, such as “sad,” “unhappy,” “hate” and “dislike” — which are key linguistic markers for traits such as depression. That indicates that the relationship between I-talk and negative emotionality is a meaningful one.

As Mehl says, regarding the research: “Stress can make you be caught in the metaphorical ‘I’ of the storm.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Arizona. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Allison M. Tackman, David A. Sbarra, Angela L. Carey, M. Brent Donnellan, Andrea B. Horn, Nicholas S. Holtzman, To’Meisha S. Edwards, James W. Pennebaker, Matthias R. Mehl. Depression, negative emotionality, and self-referential language: A multi-lab, multi-measure, and multi-language-task research synthesis.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018; DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000187

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Purpose in life predicts treatment outcome among adult cocaine abusers in treatment

A sense of purpose in life has been positively associated with mental health and well-being and has been negatively associated with alcohol use in correlational and longitudinal studies but has not been studied as a predictor of cocaine treatment outcome. This study examined pretreatment purpose in life as a predictor of response to a 30-day residential substance use treatment program among 154 participants with cocaine dependence. Purpose in life was unrelated to cocaine or alcohol use during the 6 months pretreatment. After controlling for age, baseline use, and depressive symptoms, purpose in life significantly (p < .01) predicted relapse to any use of cocaine and to alcohol and the number of days cocaine or alcohol was used in the 6 months after treatment. Findings suggest that increasing purpose in life may be an important aspect of treatment among cocaine-dependent patients.

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The Value of a Purposeful Life: Sense of Purpose Predicts Greater Income and Net Worth

Having a sense of purpose in life appears valuable across life domains, though it remains unclear whether purpose also provides financial value to individuals. The current study examined sense of purpose as a predictor of concurrent and longitudinal income and net worth levels, using two waves of the MIDUS sample of adults (N = 4660 across both assessments). Participants who reported a higher sense of purpose had higher levels of household income and net worth initially, and were more likely to increase on these financial outcomes over the nine years between assessments. Interaction tests suggested some evidence of age moderation, but gender did not appear to moderate the influence of purpose on economic outcomes.

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Purpose in life predicts allostatic load ten years later.


Living a purposeful life is associated with better mental and physical health, including longevity. Accumulating evidence shows that these associations might be explained by the association between life purpose and regulation of physiological systems involved in the stress response. The aim of this study was to investigate the prospective associations between life purpose and allostatic load over a 10-year period.


Analyses were conducted using data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) survey. Assessment of life purpose, psychological covariates and demographics were obtained at baseline, while biomarkers of allostatic load were assessed at the 10-year follow-up.


We found that greater life purpose predicted lower levels of allostatic load at follow-up, even when controlling for other aspects of psychological well-being potentially associated with allostatic load. Further, life purpose was also a strong predictor of individual differences in self-health locus of control-i.e., beliefs about how much influence individuals can exert on their own health-which, in turn, partially mediated the association between purpose and allostatic load. Although life purpose was also negatively linked to other-health locus of control-i.e., the extent to which individuals believe their health is controlled by others/chance-this association did not mediate the impact of life purpose on allostatic load.


The current study provides the first empirical evidence for the long-term physiological correlates of life purpose and supports the hypothesis that self-health locus of control acts as one proximal psychological mechanism through which life purpose may be linked to positive biological outcomes.

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Cohesiveness within teamwork: the relationship to performance effectiveness – case study

The results are supportive of a multi‐component structure for cohesiveness and of its importance to the functioning of teams and organizations. Teamwork cohesiveness appeared strongly related with team member’s attitudes towards the organization. Cohesiveness between team members was positively associated with value commitment and negatively with performance commitment. In addition, intelligence and skills appeared strongly related to team satisfaction.

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The cognitive underpinnings of effective teamwork: A meta-analysis.

Major theories of team effectiveness position emergent collective cognitive processes as central drivers of team performance. We meta-analytically cumulated 231 correlations culled from 65 independent studies of team cognition and its relations to teamwork processes, motivational states, and performance outcomes. We examined both broad relationships among cognition, behavior, motivation, and performance, as well as 3 underpinnings of team cognition as potential moderators of these relationships. Findings reveal there is indeed a cognitive foundation to teamwork; team cognition has strong positive relationships to team behavioral process, motivational states, and team performance. Meta-analytic regressions further indicate that team cognition explains significant incremental variance in team performance after the effects of behavioral and motivational dynamics have been controlled. The nature of emergence, form of cognition, and content of cognition moderate relationships among cognition, process, and performance, as do task interdependence and team type. Taken together, these findings not only cumulate extant research on team cognition but also provide a new interpretation of the impact of underlying dimensions of cognition as a way to frame and extend future research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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Emergent Leadership Behaviors: The Function of Personality and Cognitive Ability in Determining Teamwork Performance and KSAs

This study investigated the theoretical underpinnings of individual differences in emergent leadership behaviors and their relationships to teamwork processes and outcomes. Both personality and cognitive ability were utilized to examine behaviors of leadership emergence, team performance, and KSAs. Three hundred and twenty undergraduate psychology students completed personality and cognitive ability tests and then formed sixty-seven mixed-gender teams. Members rated each other on emergent leadership behaviors as well as their team on specific interpersonal and self-management KSAs. Results revealed that extroversion, openness to experience and cognitive ability were predictive of emergent leadership behaviors. Conscientiousness and cognitive ability were associated with team performance. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.

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Becoming team players: Team members’ mastery of teamwork knowledge as a predictor of team task proficiency and observed teamwork effectiveness.

The authors explored the idea that teams consisting of members who, on average, demonstrate greater mastery of relevant teamwork knowledge will demonstrate greater task proficiency and observed teamwork effectiveness. In particular, the authors posited that team members’ mastery of designated teamwork knowledge predicts better team task proficiency and higher observer ratings of effective teamwork, even while controlling for team task proficiency. The authors investigated these hypotheses by developing a structural model and testing it with field data from 92 teams (1,158 team members) in a United States Air Force officer development program focusing on a transportable set of teamwork competencies. The authors obtained proficiency scores on 3 different types of team tasks as well as ratings of effective teamwork from observers. The empirical model supported the authors’ hypotheses. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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Emotional Intelligence, Teamwork Effectiveness, and Job Performance: The Moderating Role of Job Context

We advance understanding of the role of ability-based emotional intelligence (EI) and its subdimensions in the workplace by examining the mechanisms and context-based boundary conditions of the EI–performance relationship. Using a trait activation framework, we theorize that employees with higher overall EI and emotional perception ability exhibit higher teamwork effectiveness (and subsequent job performance) when working in job contexts characterized by high managerial work demands because such contexts contain salient emotion-based cues that activate employees’ emotional capabilities. A sample of 212 professionals from various organizations and industries indicated support for the salutary effect of EI, above and beyond the influence of personality, cognitive ability, emotional labor job demands, job complexity, and demographic control variables. Theoretical and practical implications of the potential value of EI for workplace outcomes under contexts involving managerial complexity are discussed.

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How Mindfulness Enhances Emotion Regulation Through Improvements in Executive Control

Although the psychological benefits of mindfulness training on emotion regulation are well-documented, the precise mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear. In the present account, we propose a new linkage between mindfulness and improved emotion regulation—one that highlights the role played by executive control. Specifically, we suggest that the present-moment awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance that is cultivated by mindfulness training is crucial in promoting executive control because it increases sensitivity to affective cues in the experiential field. This refined attunement and openness to subtle changes in affective states fosters executive control because it improves response to incipient affective cues that help signal the need for control. This, in turn, enhances emotion regulation. In presenting our model, we discuss how new findings in executive control can improve our understanding of how mindfulness increases the capacity for effective emotion regulation.

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Mindfulness: overcoming intractable conflict

Intractable conflict involves reoccurring patterns of ineffective communication in which issues are not resolved and build over time. These situations can lead to bad feelings, damaged relationships, depression, aggression, anxiety and substance abuse. Grounded theory methods were used to study the processes involved in intractable conflicts and to identify ways of responding that promote growth and/or resolution. Results indicate that developing mindfulness over mindlessness is the basic social process that threads through three phases of working through intractable conflict. Phases include: growing awareness, self-realization, and regaining equilibrium. Mental health professionals can use this knowledge to support mindful practices as a means to protect against destructive conflict and mental health woes.

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Connections between emotional intelligence and workplace flourishing

Higher emotional intelligence is associated with workplace flourishing. Emotional intelligence is associated with perceived workplace social support and power. Social support and power mediate between emotional intelligence and workplace flourishing.

The individual difference characteristic of emotional intelligence may be a foundation for workplace flourishing. Responses from 319 working adults recruited from the United States and Australia showed that higher emotional intelligence was significantly related to better mental health, more work engagement, more satisfaction with social support in the workplace, and more perceived power in the workplace. Mediation path models indicated that more satisfaction with social support in the workplace and more perceived power in the workplace linked greater emotional intelligence to indicators of flourishing.

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The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder

Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in the mindfulness group had a greater drop in stress-related ACTH hormone.

Individuals in the mindfulness group also had a greater drop in pro-imflammatory cytokines during the stress task.

Findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may have helped participants cope better with subsequent stress.

Mindfulness-Based interventions have increased in popularity in psychiatry, but the impact of these treatments on disorder-relevant biomarkers would greatly enhance efficacy and mechanistic evidence. If Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is successfully treated, relevant biomarkers should change, supporting the impact of treatment and suggesting improved resilience to stress. Seventy adults with GAD were randomized to receive either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or an attention control class; before and after, they underwent the Trier Social Stress Test(TSST). Area-Under-the-Curve (AUC) concentrations were calculated for adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and pro-inflammatory cytokines. MBSRparticipants had a significantly greater reduction in ACTH AUC compared to control participants. Similarly, the MBSR group had a greater reduction in inflammatory cytokines’ AUC concentrations. We found larger reductions in stress markers for patients with GAD in the MBSR class compared to control; this provides the first combined hormonal and immunological evidence that MBSR may enhance resilience to stress.

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The contribution of mindfulness to predicting burnout in the workplace


    The study tested whether mindfulness acted as a separate resource to buffer burnout.Mindfulness added to personal and workplace resources and workplace demands in JD–R.A large sample of participants in diverse occupations completed an online survey.Mindfulness facets remained significant after adding other resources and demands.Including mindfulness could enhance workplace functioning through less burnout.

Research has found that burnout leads to depression, reduced productivity, and increased compensation claims. According to the Job Demands–Resources Model, staff start to progress through the first (emotional exhaustion), second (cynicism) and third (reduced professional efficacy) components of burnout when they perceive their workplace demands exceed their workplace resources and personal traits. Recent research suggests that mindfulness (a singular focus to the present with an attitude of acceptance) could be a new personal trait that buffers against burnout. The first aim of the present study with 381 employees was to test whether each of the five facets of mindfulness were significant predictors for the three components of burnout. The second aim was to test how effective overall mindfulness was at predicting burnout, when compared to other resources. Each component of burnout was analysed separately through hierarchical multiple regression. Mindfulness, personal traits, workplace resources and workplace demands were entered separately as blocks in the analysis. The results found that different facets of mindfulness predicted different components of burnout. The results also found that overall mindfulness was a new, unique personal trait that can be factored into the Job Demands–Resources Model. Clinical applications are discussed.

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When you don’t like what you feel: Experiential avoidance, mindfulness and meta-emotion in emotion regulation

The present study explores the role of (1) “experiential avoidance” (being non-accepting towards mental events) and (2) “mindful awareness” (being attentive in the present moment) in the prediction of well-being. These established constructs are newly complemented with (3) “meta-emotions” (emotional reactions about one’s own emotions) that allow for a meaningful differentiation of processes in experiential avoidance. Psychometric properties of the newly developed Meta-Emotion Scale (MES) are presented. Psychological well-being is strongly predicted by all three facets. Of the six MES subscales, substantial predictive power could be confirmed for “contempt/shame”, “suppression”, “tough control” and “interest”, whereas “anger” and “compassionate care”, unexpectedly, exerted little influence in our non-clinical sample. The role of meta-emotions in emotion regulation is discussed.

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Mindfulness meditation and relaxation response have different effects on brain function

Mass. General-led study shows distinct effects on brain areas associated with awareness and with deliberate relaxation

A variety of meditation-based programs have been developed in recent years to reduce stress and medical symptoms and to promote wellness. One lingering question is to what extent these programs are similar or different. In a study published in the June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers, in collaboration with members of the two leading mind-body stress reduction programs, reports the results of their study documenting the different effects these mind-body practices have in the brain.

There are two widely used meditation-based stress reduction courses. One is based on the relaxation response – first described by Herb Benson, MD, director emeritus of the MGH-based Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine – which focuses on eliciting a physiologic state of deep rest, the opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response. The other is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which emphasizes a particular, non-judgmental attitude termed “mindfulness” as key to stress reduction. Although both interventions are based on meditation, the scientific philosophies and meditative traditions upon which each is founded are different, and these differences are reflected in the instructions and exercises taught to patients.

“If the hypotheses proposed by the programs’ creators are in fact correct, they imply that these programs promote wellness through different mechanisms of action,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroscience Research Program, senior author of the current report and assistant professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Such a finding would suggest that these programs could potentially have different effects on disease.”

To investigate that possibility, healthy adults with high levels of stress were randomized to two 8-week programs – 18 completed the relaxation response program, and 16 completed the mindfulness program. Both programs successfully decreased stress and increased mindfulness in participants. However, the mindfulness program resulted in further improvements in measures such as self-compassion and rumination, clearly indicating that the programs are not the same, Lazar says.

To further understand the similarities and differences between the programs, the team measured brain activity during a meditation technique common to both programs – a body scan, in which attention is moved sequentially throughout the body to develop bodily awareness. While the relaxation response program instructs participants to deliberately relax each body area as they become aware of it, the mindfulness program just emphasizes mindful awareness and acceptance “without any attempt to change anything.”

Lead author Gunes Sevinc, PhD, a research fellow in Lazar’s laboratory says, “By directly comparing the body-scan meditations, which differed only in cognitive strategy, we were able to identify the brain regions that are involved in mediating the common and differential strategies employed by each intervention.”

The results showed that the strength of neural interaction between brain regions associated with present-moment awareness and bodily attention increased during both types of body-scan meditation. But each program also showed unique patterns of brain activity in line with the different theoretical orientation of each program. The relaxation response body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions commonly associated with deliberate control, including inferior frontal gyrus and supplementary motor areas. Conversely, the mindfulness body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions associated with sensory awareness and perception, including the insula and the pregenual anterior cingulate.

“These findings indicate that the programs are working through different neural mechanisms,” says Sevinc, “The relaxation response program is working more through deliberate control mechanisms, while the mindfulness program is working more through sensory awareness mechanisms. It is somewhat analogous to weight training vs. aerobic exercise – both are beneficial, but each has its unique mechanism and contribution.”

Norman Farb, PhD, of the University of Toronto Department of Psychology, who was not part of the study, says, “Professor Lazar’s neuroimaging study helps us to better appreciate how these seemingly similar practices differ in important ways. Both practices seem to promote access to neural representations of the body, but they differ in how such representations are structured. This study is important for beginning to inform the public about key differences between conceptually similar therapeutic approaches, which may in turn allow people to make more skillful decisions about which practice might be right for their personal improvement.”

Lazar notes that future studies will be needed to determine whether these neural and psychological differences impact specific diseases in unique ways.


Additional co-authors are Britta Hölzel, PhD, Jonathan Greenberg, PhD, Adrienne McCallister, DO, and Marissa Schneider, MGH Psychiatry; Javeria Hashmi, PhD, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Jeffery Dusek, PhD, Benson Henry Institute; Michael Treadway, PhD, Berkshire Medical Center, Pittsfield, Mass., and James Carmody, PhD, University of Massachusetts Medical School. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health grants R01 AG048351, R21 AT003425, S10 RR019307 and S10 RR023401.

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with an annual research budget of more than $900 million and major research centers in HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, genomic medicine, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, photomedicine and transplantation biology. The MGH topped the 2015 Nature Index list of health care organizations publishing in leading scientific journals and earned the prestigious 2015 Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service. In August 2017 the MGH was once again named to the Honor Roll in the U.S. News & World Report list of “America’s Best Hospitals.”

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Brain activity during biofeedback relaxation: A functional neuroimaging investigation

The mechanisms by which cognitive processes influence states of bodily arousal are important for understanding the pathogenesis and maintenance of stress-related morbidity. We used PET to investigate cerebral activity relating to the cognitively driven modulation of sympathetic activity. Subjects were trained to perform a biofeedback relaxation exercise that reflected electrodermal activity and were subsequently scanned performing repetitions of four tasks: biofeedback relaxation, relaxation without biofeedback and two corresponding control conditions in which the subjects were instructed not to relax. Relaxation was associated with significant increases in left anterior cingulate and globus pallidus activity, whereas no significant increases in activity were associated with biofeedback compared with random feedback. The interaction between biofeedback and relaxation, highlighting activity unique to biofeedback relaxation, was associated with enhanced anterior cingulate and cerebellar vermal activity. These data implicate the anterior cingulate cortex in the intentional modulation of bodily arousal and suggest a functional neuroanatomy of how cognitive states are integrated with bodily responses. The findings have potential implications for a mechanistic account of how therapeutic interventions, such as relaxation training in stress-related disorders, mediate their effects.

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Practice makes perfect: The effect of cognitive behavioral interventions during IVF treatments on women’s perceived stress, plasma cortisol and pregnancy rates



Perceived stress and stress reduction interventions have a mixed relationship with fecundity. The objective of this study is to attempt and disentangle these relationships by looking at practicing stress reduction techniques and fecundity and examining their relationship to a behavioral and a neuroendocrine measure of stress.

Materials and methods

Fifty nulliparous-infertile women participated in a randomized prospective pilot study with repeated measures to examine the efficacy of cognitive behavioral interventions(CBI) in reducing perceived stress and improving pregnancy rates. Stress measures were taken at T0 (before CBI), T2 (ovum pick up) and T3 (time of pregnancy test).


We found that women who reported low perceived stress at the beginning of treatment (T0) had a twofold increased chance of becoming pregnant (βhCG >7 mIU/mL) compared to those who reported high-perceived stress, regardless of CBI. Women who received CBI reported reduced perceived stress at the time of the pregnancy test (T3). Women who engaged in daily practice of CBI had significantly higher pregnancy rates compared to those who did not practice.


It may be beneficial for women who have high perceived stress levels to learn and practice stress reduction techniques before beginning IVF treatment, and continue to practice daily during IVF treatment.

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Evaluation of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Intervention to Reduce Psychological Distress in the Workplace

Employees of a call center working for a financial institution took part in a brief mindfulness-based intervention (MBI). Each day, during five consecutive weeks, they listened to two short guided meditation sessions using a headset at their workstation (10 min in the morning and 5 min after lunch). A pretest-post-test switching-replication design was used to assess changes in mindfulness, psychological distress, and client satisfaction over the course of the intervention. During the first portion of the study, group 1 (n = 18) acted as the intervention group while group 2 (n = 25) acted as the control group. During the second portion, the intervention was replicated, and the roles of the two groups were switched. Data were collected using self-report questionnaires at baseline (t1), week 6 (t2), and week 11 (t3) and examined using both analysis of variance and prediction analysis. The results showed that mindfulness increased while psychological distress (stress, anxiety/depression, fatigue, and negative affect) decreased for all employees throughout the intervention, especially among those with low mindfulness scores at baseline. The satisfaction level of the employees’ internal clients significantly increased over time, although the effect size was small. This article contributes to the field of mindfulness at work by (1) introducing a novel MBI specifically designed for call centers, (2) assessing the impact of the intervention on client satisfaction, and (3) doing so using a research design and a statistical technique which have never been used in mindfulness studies.


Mindfulness Intervention Psychological distress Workplace Client satisfaction 

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A prospective study using Hatha Yoga for stress reduction among women waiting for IVF treatment

Yoga has been found to be effective in treating anxiety and depression, reducing stress and improving the overall quality of life in the general population. Minimal research is available on the effect of stress-management programmes with IVF patients. Owing to the diversity of conditions treated, the poor quality of most studies, and the different assessment tools used to evaluate the psychological state, it is difficult to draw definite conclusions. Previous studies have used different mind–body interventions and general measures of stress without evaluation of specific stresses known to result from infertility and its treatment using standardized measures. In this single-centre study, 49 infertile women were recruited to participate in a 6-week Yoga class during 2013 while awaiting their IVF treatment. Study participants were asked to complete standardized questionnaires assessing fertility-related quality of life (FertiQoL), marital harmony (Dyadic Adjustment Scale [DAS]), state and trait anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory [STAI]) and depression (Beck Depression Inventory [BDI]) before commencing and after completing the Yoga workshops. Anxiety, depression and fertility-specific quality of life showed improvement over time in association with participation in a 6-week Yoga programme in women awaiting their treatment with IVF.

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Effect of a Mind-Body Therapeutic Program for Infertile Women Repeating In Vitro Fertilization Treatment on Uncertainty, Anxiety, and Implantation Rate



The study aimed to develop a mind-body therapeutic program and evaluate its effects on mitigating uncertainty, anxiety, and implantation rate of second-trial in vitro fertilization (IVF) women.


This study employed a nonequivalent control group nonsynchronized design. The conceptual framework and program content were developed from a preliminary survey of eight infertile women and the extensive review of the literature. Program focuses on three uncertainty-induced anxieties in infertile women: cognitive, emotional, and biological responses. To evaluate the effect of the intervention, the infertile women with unknown cause preparing for a second IVF treatment were sampled at convenience (26 experimental and 24 control).


The experimental group in the study showed greater decrease in uncertainty and anxiety in premeasurements and postmeasurements than the control group did. However, no statistically significant differences in the implantation rate between groups were observed.


This study is meaningful as the first intervention program for alleviating uncertainty and anxiety provided during the IVF treatment process. The positive effects of the mind-body therapeutic program in alleviating both uncertainty and anxiety have direct meaning for clinical applications.

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Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients


To determine if women who were randomized to a mind/body program before starting their first IVF cycle would have higher pregnancy rates than control subjects.


Randomized, controlled, prospective study.


Private academically affiliated infertility center.


A total of 143 women aged ≤40 years who were about to begin their first IVF cycle.


Subjects were randomized to a ten-session mind/body program (MB) or a control group and followed for two IVF cycles.

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Clinical pregnancy rate.


Only 9% of the MB participants had attended at least one-half of their sessions at cycle 1 start. Pregnancy rates for cycle 1 were 43% for all subjects; 76% of the MB subjects had attended at least one-half of their sessions at cycle 2 start. Pregnancy rates for cycle 2 were 52% for MB and 20% for control.


MB participation was associated with increased pregnancy rates for cycle 2, prior to which most subjects had attended at least half of their sessions.

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Researchers ‘dismantle’ mindfulness intervention to see how each component works

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field’s leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science.

One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)— and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) — noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) — maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions.

“It has long been hypothesized that focused attention practice improves attentional control while open-monitoring promotes emotional non-reactivity— two aspects of mindfulness thought to contribute its therapeutic effects,” said study lead and corresponding author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “However, because these two practices are almost always delivered in combination, it is difficult to assess their purported differential effects. By creating separate, validated, single-ingredient training programs for each practice, the current project provides researchers with a tool to test the individual contributions of each component and mechanism to clinical endpoints.”

In the study, the researchers randomized more than 100 individuals with mild-to-severe depression, anxiety and stress to take one of three eight-week courses: one set of classes provided a standardized MBCT that incorporated the typical blend of OM and FA. The two other classes each provided an intervention that employed only OM or only FA. In every other respect — time spent in class, time practicing at home, instructor training and skill, participant characteristics, number of handouts — each class was comparable by design.

At the beginning and end of the classes, the researchers asked the volunteers to answer a variety of standardized questionnaires, including scales that measure their self-reported ability to achieve some of the key skills each practice is assumed to improve. If the researchers saw significant differences between the FA group and the OM group on the skills each was supposed to affect, then there would be evidence that the practices uniquely improve those skills as intervention providers often claim.

Sure enough, the different practices engaged different skills and mechanisms as predicted. The FA-only group, for example, reported much greater improvement in the ability to willfully shift or focus attention than the OM-only group (but not the MBCT group, which also received FA training). Meanwhile, the OM-only group was significantly more improved than the FA-only group (but not the MBCT group) in the skill of being non-reactive to negative thoughts.

“If FA practice promotes attentional control, and OM practice promotes emotional non-reactivity, then end users can alter the amount of each practice to fit their individual needs for each skill,” Britton said. “The study created validated single-practice programs that can be used by other researchers or providers for specific populations or conditions. This is the first step to an evidence-based personalized medicine approach to mindfulness.”

The Science of Behavior Change

Along with co-author and epidemiology associate professor Eric Loucks, director of Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, Britton is part of the five-university Mindfulness Research Collaborative. The collaborative is one of eight teams in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) Research Network.

The new research will appear in print in a February 2018 special issue of the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy titled “An experimental medicine approach to behavior change: The NIH Science Of Behavior Change (SOBC),” which takes a mechanism-focused approach to studying behavioral interventions.

The Mindfulness Research Collaborative (MRC) consists of 11 mindfulness researchers across five universities, and is one of the eight teams in the SOBC Research Network who are working to advance a mechanism-focused approach to behavioral interventions. The collaborative’s SOBC project “Mindfulness Influences on Self-Regulation: Mental and Physical Health Implications seeks to identify self-regulation intervention targets that are engaged by MBIs, as well as factors that influence target engagement. The current paper describes the “Dismantling Mindfulness” concurrent clinical trial.

Britton said the SOBC approach can make mindfulness more effective for people who practice it.

“Mindfulness research in general could benefit from employing the SOBC experimental medicine approach,” she said. “Little is known about how MBIs work or how they should be modified to maximize effectiveness. The SOBC experimental medicine approach will not only help MBIs become maximally effective, but also provide essential mechanistic information that will help tailor the intervention and instructor training to specific populations and conditions.”

The paper’s other authors are Jake Davis, Barnes Peterson, Brendan Cullen, Laura Reuter, Allora Rando, Hadley Rahrig, Jonah Lipsky and Jared Lindahl.

The National Institutes of Health (grants: K23AT00632801A1, UH2AT009145), the Mind and Life Institute and Brown University’s Contemplative Studies Initiative provided support for the study.

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Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation

Pain is a primary symptom driving patients to seek physical therapy, and its attenuation commonly defines a successful outcome. A large body of evidence is dedicated to elucidating the relationship between chronic stress and pain; however, stress is rarely addressed in pain rehabilitation. A physiologic stress response may be evoked by fear or perceived threat to safety, status, or well-being and elicits the secretion of sympathetic catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinepherine) and neuroendocrine hormones (cortisol) to promote survival and motivate success. Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory that functions to mobilize glucose reserves for energy and modulate inflammation. Cortisol also may facilitate the consolidation of fear-based memories for future survival and avoidance of danger. Although short-term stress may be adaptive, maladaptive responses (eg, magnification, rumination, helplessness) to pain or non–pain-related stressors may intensify cortisol secretion and condition a sensitized physiologic stress response that is readily recruited. Ultimately, a prolonged or exaggerated stress response may perpetuate cortisol dysfunction, widespread inflammation, and pain. Stress may be unavoidable in life, and challenges are inherent to success; however, humans have the capability to modify what they perceive as stressful and how they respond to it. Exaggerated psychological responses (eg, catastrophizing) following maladaptive cognitive appraisals of potential stressors as threatening may exacerbate cortisol secretion and facilitate the consolidation of fear-based memories of pain or non–pain-related stressors; however, coping, cognitive reappraisal, or confrontation of stressors may minimize cortisol secretion and prevent chronic, recurrent pain. Given the parallel mechanisms underlying the physiologic effects of a maladaptive response to pain and non–pain-related stressors, physical therapists should consider screening for non–pain-related stress to facilitate treatment, prevent chronic disability, and improve quality of life.

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Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on fertility quality of life and pregnancy rates among women subjected to first in vitro fertilization treatment.

Generally, undergoing an in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment is an emotional and physical burden for the infertile woman, which may negatively influence the treatment outcome. We conducted a study to investigate the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) among women subjected to first IVF treatment at a fertility medical center in China. Among infertile women registered for their first IVF treatment, 58 completed the intervention, and 50 were assigned to a control group using a non-randomized controlled study. Standardized measures of mindfulness, self-compassion, emotion regulation difficulties, infertility-related coping strategies and fertility quality of life (FertiQoL) were endorsed pre- and post-MBI, and measure of pregnancy rates at the sixth months after the intervention. Both groups were shown to be equivalent at baseline. By the end of the intervention, women who attended the intervention revealed a significant increase in mindfulness, self-compassion, meaning-based coping strategies and all FertiQoL domains. Inversely, they presented a significant decrease in emotion regulation difficulties, active- and passive-avoidance coping strategies. Women in the control group did not present significant changes in any of the psychological measures. Moreover, there were statistically significant differences between participants in the pregnancy rates, the experiment group higher than the control group. Being fully aware of the present moment without the lens of judgment, seems to help women relate to their infertility and IVF treatment in new ways. This is beneficial for promoting their self-compassion, adaptive emotion regulation and infertility-related coping strategies, which, in turn, may influence the FertiQoL and pregnancy rates. The brief and nonpharmaceutical nature of this intervention makes it a promising candidate for women’ use during first IVF treatment.

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Mindfulness-Based Interventions During Pregnancy: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

This systematic review aims to assess the effect of mindfulness-based interventions carried out during pregnancy exploring mindfulness and mental health outcomes. A systematic review was conducted to appraise the current literature on the subject area. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were agreed and after reviewing titles, abstracts and full papers, 14 articles met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. The quality of included articles was checked using the Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies. Pooled results of the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) reporting outcomes on anxiety, depression and perceived stress indicated no differences between the mindfulness intervention group and the control group. Pooled results of the non-RCTs reporting anxiety, depression and perceived stress showed a significant benefit for the mindfulness group. Mindfulness as an outcome was assessed in four RCTs for which the pooled results show a significant difference in favour of the mindfulness intervention when compared to a control group. The pooled results of the four non-RCTs also indicate a significant difference following mindfulness intervention. Results suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can be beneficial for outcomes such as anxiety, depression, perceived stress and levels of mindfulness during the perinatal period. Further research would be useful to explore if such benefits are sustained during the post-natal period.

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Four Reasons to Practice Mindfulness During Pregnancy

Published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

Mothers-to-be don’t spend their entire 40 weeks of pregnancy glowing radiantly; there are also midnight worries, endless shopping lists, and swollen feet. Somewhere around 18 percent of women are depressed during pregnancy, and 21 percent have serious anxiety.

Research is starting to suggest that mindfulness could help. Not only does cultivating moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts and surroundings seem to help pregnant women keep their stress down and their spirits up—benefits that are well-documented among other groups of people—it may also lead to healthier newborns with fewer developmental problems down the line.

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