Skip to main content

Deconstructing Mindfulness and Constructing Mental Health: Understanding Mindfulness and its Mechanisms of Action

Abstract

Research on mindfulness indicates that it is associated with improved mental health, but the use of multiple different definitions of mindfulness prevents a clear understanding of the construct. In particular, the boundaries between different conceptualizations of mindfulness and emotion regulation are unclear. Furthermore, the mechanisms by which any of these conceptualizations of mindfulness might influence mental health are not well-understood. The two studies presented here addressed these questions using correlational, self-report data from a non-clinical sample of undergraduate students. The first study used a combination of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to better understand the factor structure of mindfulness and emotion regulation measures. Results indicated that these measures assess heterogeneous and overlapping constructs, and may be most accurately thought of as measuring four factors: present-centered attention, acceptance of experience, clarity about one’s internal experience, and the ability to manage negative emotions. A path analysis supported the hypothesis that mindfulness (defined by a two-factor construct including present-centered attention and acceptance of experience) contributed to clarity about one’s experience, which improved the ability to manage negative emotions. The second study developed these findings by exploring the mediating roles of clarity about one’s internal life, the ability to manage negative emotions, non-attachment (or the extent to which one’s happiness is independent of specific outcomes and events), and rumination in the relationship between mindfulness and two aspects of mental health, psychological distress and flourishing mental health. Results confirmed the importance of these mediators in the relationship between mindfulness and mental health.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1849–1858.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., & Allen, K. B. (2004). Assessment of mindfulness by self-report: the Kentucky inventory of mindfulness skills. Assessment, 11(3), 191–206.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27–45.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Perils and promise in defining and measuring mindfulness: observations from experience. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 242–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundation and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211–237.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Buchheld, N., Grossman, P., & Wallach, H. (2001). Measuring mindfulness in insight meditation (Vipassana) and meditation-based psychotherapy: the development of the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI). Journal for Meditation and Meditation Research, 1, 11–34.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Chadwick, P., Hember, M., Mead, S., Lilley, B., & Dagnan, D. (2005). Responding mindfully to unpleasant thoughts and images: Reliability and validity of the Mindfulness Questionnaire. Unpublished manuscript.

  11. Coffey, K. A., & Hartman, M. (2008). Mechanisms of action in the inverse relationship between mindfulness and psychological distress. Complementary Health Practice Review, 13, 79–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Davidson, R. J. (2010). Empirical explorations of mindfulness: conceptual and methodological conundrums. Emotion, 10, 8–11.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Derogatis, L. (1977). The SCL-90-R: administration, scoring, and procedures manual 1. Baltimore: Clinical Psychometric Research.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Derogatis, L. (1983). The brief symptom inventory: an introductory report. Psychological Medicine, 13(3), 595–605.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Dimidjian, S., & Linehan, M. (2003). Defining an agenda for future research on the clinical applications of mindfulness practice. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 166–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Ekman, P., Davidson, R. J., Ricard, M., & Wallace, B. A. (2005). Buddhist and psychological perspectives on emotions and well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(2), 59–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Farb, N. A. S., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion, 10, 25–33.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Garland, E. L., Gaylord, S., & Park, J. (2009). The role of mindfulness in positive reappraisal. Explore (NY), 5(1), 37–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Garland, E. L., Gaylord, S., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). Positive reappraisal mediates the stress-reductive effects of mindfulness: An upward spiral process. Manuscript under review.

  21. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10, 83–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Goldstein, J. (1976). The experience of insight. Boston: Shambhala.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Goleman, D. (2003). Destructive emotions: a scientific dialogue with the Dalai Lama. New York: Bantam Dell.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Gratz, K. L., & Roemer, L. (2004). Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26(1), 41–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hanh, T. N. (1998). The heart of the Buddha’s teaching. Berkeley: Parallax.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hayduk, L. A. (1987). Structural equation modeling with LISREL: essentials and advances. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 169–183.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., et al. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33, 11–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Jöreskog, K., & Sörbom, D. (2001). LISREL 8.51: user’s reference guide. Chicago: Scientific Software International.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149(7), 936–943.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Keyes, C. (2005). Mental illness and/or mental health: investigating axioms of the complete state of mental health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 539–548.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Keyes, C. (2006). The subjective well-being of America’s youth: toward a comprehensive assessment. Adolescent and Family Health, 4, 3–11.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kumar, S. M., Feldman, G. C., & Hayes, A. M. (2008). Changes in mindfulness and emotion regulation in an exposure-based cognitive therapy for depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 734–744.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kyabgon, T. (2001). The essence of Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lama, D., & Cutler, H. C. (1998). The art of happiness: a handbook for living. New York: Riverhead Books.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive–behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: The Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Linehan, M. M., Armstrong, H. E., Suarez, A., Allmon, D., & Heard, H. L. (1991). A cognitive–behavioral treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 48, 1060–1064.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Ma, S. H., & Teasdale, J. D. (2004). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: replication and exploration of differential relapse prevention effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 31–40.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Martin, L. L., & Tesser, A. (1989). Toward a motivational and structural theory of ruminative thought. In J. S. Uleman & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought: the limits of awareness, intention, and control (pp. 552–572). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  40. McIntosh, W. D. (1997). East meets West: parallels between Zen Buddhism and social psychology. International Journal for Psychology of Religion, 7, 37–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. McIntosh, W. D., & Martin, L. L. (1992). The cybernetics of happiness: the relation between goal attainment, rumination, and affect. In M. S. Clark (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 14, pp. 222–246). Newbury Park: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depression symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504–511.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Salovey, P., Mayer, J. D., Goldman, S., Turvey, C., & Palfai, T. (1995). Emotional attention, clarity, and repair: exploring emotional intelligence using the trait meta-mood scale. In J. D. Pennebaker (Ed.), Emotion, disclosure, and health (pp. 125–154). Washington: American Psychological Association.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  44. Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: a new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Bonner, G. (1998). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21, 581–599.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 373–386.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Smallwood, J., McSpadden, M., & Schooler, J. W. (2007). The lights are on but no one’s home: meta-awareness and the decoupling of attention when the mind wanders. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 527–533.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer patients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 613–622.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Teasdale, J. D. (1999). Metacognition, mindfulness, and the modification of mood disorders. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 6, 146–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., & Williams, M. G. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behavior Research and Therapy, 33, 25–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., & Lau, M. A. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615–623.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Trapnell, P. D., & Campbell, J. D. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(2), 284–304.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. Way, B. M., Creswell, J. D., Eisenberger, N. I., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Dispositional mindfulness and depressive symptomatology: correlations with limbic and self-referential neural activity during rest. Emotion, 10, 12–24.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., et al. (2008). Mindfulness mediation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD: a feasibility study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11, 737–746.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kimberly A. Coffey.

Appendix

Appendix

Carolina Empirically Derived Mindfulness Inventory (CEDMI)

Table 6 Please indicate below how often the following items are true for you

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Coffey, K.A., Hartman, M. & Fredrickson, B.L. Deconstructing Mindfulness and Constructing Mental Health: Understanding Mindfulness and its Mechanisms of Action. Mindfulness 1, 235–253 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-010-0033-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotion regulation
  • Mental health
  • Factor analysis
  • Structural equation modeling