Study: Mindful adults better capable of handling difficulties

By Andrew Cromarty
June 29th, 2022
University of Maine study, led by Rebecca MacAulay, associate professor of psychology
Rebecca MacAulay is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Maine.

Sooner or later, we all face the inevitable challenges of aging. However, a recent study shows that mindful individuals may be better suited to handle those difficulties as they age.

In November of 2021, a University of Maine study, led by Rebecca MacAulay, associate professor of psychology, investigated the association between trait mindfulness and executive function in older adults. The research, published in the “Aging & Mental Health” journal, suggests that mindfulness can lead to greater psychological resilience and improve emotional and cognitive health.

The research team evaluated trait mindfulness associations with executive function and factors related to psychological risk and resiliency in 121 adults aged 55 to 87 using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS).

Participants completed neuropsychological tests of working memory, mental set-shifting, and inhibition, in addition to several psychological self-report measures.

The results showed that trait mindfulness was associated with greater age, years of education, and less perceived stress, depression, anxiety, and subjective cognitive concerns. They also revealed that more mindful adults possessed greater inhibitory control.

“I think we need to better understand what makes mindfulness work for different people in order to make it more generalizable to more diverse populations.” --Rebecca MacAulay, associate professor of psychology, University of Maine

“The takeaway from this study is really that being more mindful is associated with having better attentional control. This can have benefits in emotional reactivity,” MacAulay said. “It’s not that those adults aren’t facing stress or that they don’t get upset. It’s that they may be better able to press pause and inhibit certain responses. That can have an effect on wellbeing, but it also might have long-term benefits for our brain health.”

The study is not without its limitations, however. The sample reflects the primarily non-Hispanic white population of the state of Maine. Additionally, the study noted that there are questions regarding the validity of self-report measures of mindfulness. Individuals who frequently practice mindfulness tend to exhibit heightened level of awareness, but, ironically, will rate themselves lower.

Nonetheless, the findings indicate that engaging regularly in mindfulness practices enhances executive function and that trait mindfulness may help to preserve cognitive function and facilitate cognitive resilience by increasing mental stimulation.

MacAulay said there is increased interest in developing mindfulness-based interventions for older adults. She also acknowledges that there are many different mindfulness programs already available, but that they are drastically underutilized.

“I think we need to better understand what makes mindfulness work for different people in order to make it more generalizable to more diverse populations,” MacAulay said.

She plans to focus her next study on seeking qualitative feedback that may help lead to more effective mindfulness education and training.

“I think it’s really important that that education is provided as part of mindfulness training. Otherwise, people might get disappointed,” MacAulay said. “Sometimes people can experience more anxiety or depression symptoms because they’re thinking that they’re doing it wrong, when really their mind is just active and that’s part of the training.

She added, “It can be really hard because we most need to be mindful when we have a lot going on in our life. Those are usually the times that it’s the hardest, but if we keep practicing it becomes easier to draw on those resources.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered By MemberPress WooCommerce Plus Integration