Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Toward Research on Real-World Effects of Meditation

The Mind and Life Institute has announced its winners for the Mind and Life 1440 Awards supporting research into the "real world" effects of meditation. From my perspective, this looks like a deserving series of proposed studies.

Toward Research on Real-World Effects of Meditation
MARCH 4, 2013

As many of our colleagues are aware, the Mind & Life Institute has been a long-time supporter of research in contemplative science. Since 2004, we have been awarding small grants to advance rigorous research in the field through our Francisco J. Varela Awards program. Over the last decade, we have funded over 120 Varela Awards, and are encouraged to see how much impact these grants have had on both the growth of a new field of scientific study, and also the career development of many young researchers who share an interest and commitment to examining the mind through contemplative practice.

Despite these successes, more can be done to gain a deeper understand of the effects of meditation in our daily lives. To date, research on contemplative practice has focused largely on exploring the effects of meditation on the body and mind in a laboratory setting. Common themes have focused on questions such as: How do contemplative practices affect biological and psychological systems in the practitioner? Are there consistent, measurable changes that lead to positive outcomes (e.g., reduced stress, brain changes, personality changes)? While this stage is a necessary first step to begin to understand the mechanisms underlying meditation, the real work lies in applying this knowledge outside the lab, in everyday life. Thus, the next step is moving toward applied, real-world science: How can contemplative practices be used to increase our awareness of ourselves and others in the midst of our modern world? What practices lead to healthier relationships and more compassionate interactions, and how can we measure this?

Mind and Life recently joined with the 1440 Foundation to design a program in the hopes of advancing contemplative science into this next phase of investigation. Stemming from this collaboration, we were excited to hold the first cycle of the Mind and Life 1440 Awards for Real-world Contemplative Research last fall. These grants of $15,000 – $25,000 are specifically geared towards the investigation of real-world (as opposed to lab-based) outcomes of contemplative practice. Specifically, the 1440 Awards are intended to promote research that evaluates whether and how contemplative practice can promote inner well-being and healthy relationships, as well as the development of new methods to assess these outcomes in everyday life.

After a very competitive funding cycle, we are thrilled to announce the first Mind and Life 1440 Awardees:
  • Carrie Adair, West Virginia University: Mindfulness in interpersonal judgments and relationships in daily life
  • Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Northeastern University: Short and long-term behavioral, physiological, and brain changes resulting from compassion meditation training as an intervention for stress due to difficult interpersonal relationships
  • Paul Condon, Florida State University: Contemplative practice, emotional well-being, and the transformation of hostility in the lab and real world
  • Eric Garland and Amber Kelly, Florida State University: Trauma-informed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to promote intra- and interpersonal flourishing among survivors of traumatic violence
Congratulations to our winners, and we wish you great success in your studies. By enabling high-level research in the area of social and relational outcomes of contemplative practice, it is our hope that the 1440 Awards will expand the applications and impact of contemplative practices in the world.
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