Mindfulness Meditation and Behavior Change

  • Yi-Yuan TangEmail author


Although mindfulness meditation has shown beneficial effects on cognition, emotion, health, and brain plasticity, the relationship between brain mechanisms of mindfulness meditation and behavior change is not yet well-established. Does mindfulness help with behavior change, such as smoking cessation or weight loss? Building on the latest research, this chapter proposes a brain-based model and mechanism underlying behavior change through mindfulness meditation, which includes attention control (persistent focus on target or goal), emotion regulation (positive emotion, reinforcement, and reward), and self-awareness (interoceptive observation and monitoring with equanimity). We use smoking cessation and weight loss as examples of behavior change because these are persistent problems in our society, but are difficult behaviors to stop. We also discuss how “focused attention“ and “open-monitoring” mindfulness meditation can support behavior change.


Focused attention Open monitoring Behavior change Unconscious 


  1. Ansorge, U., Kunde, W., & Kiefer, M. (2014). Unconscious vision and executive control: How unconscious processing and conscious action control interact. Consciousness and Cognition, 27, 268–287.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., & Bargh, J. A. (2014). Conscious and unconscious: Toward an integrative understanding of human life and action. In J. Sherman (Ed.), Dual process theories of the social mind. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  4. Chiesa, A., Serretti, A., & Jakobsen, J. C. (2013). Mindfulness: Top-down or bottom–up emotion regulation strategy? Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 82–96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Childress, A. R., et al. (2008). Prelude to passion: Limbic activation by “unseen” drug and sexual cues. PLoS ONE, 3, e1506.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Earp, B. D., Dill, B., Harris, J. L., Ackerman, J. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2013). No sign of quitting: Incidental exposure to “no smoking” signs ironically boosts cigarette-approach tendencies in smokers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(10), 2158–2162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Everitt, B. J. (2014). Neural and psychological mechanisms underlying compulsive drug seeking habits and drug memories: Indications for novel treatments of addiction. European Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 2163–2182.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Everitt, B. J., & Robbins, T. W. (2016). Drug addiction: Updating actions to habits to compulsions ten years on. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 23–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Goldstein, R. Z., Craig, A. D., Bechara, A., Garavan, H., Childress, A. R., Paulus, M. P., et al. (2009). The neurocircuitry of impaired insight in drug addiction. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 372–380.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Hagerty, M. R., Isaacs, J., Brasington, L., Shupe, L., Fetz, E. E., & Cramer, S. C. (2013). Case study of ecstatic meditation: fMRI and EEG evidence of self-stimulating a reward system. Neural Plasticity, 2013, 653572.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspect. Psychol. Sci., 6, 537–559.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Kjaer, T. W., Bertelsen, C., Piccini, P., Brooks, D., Alving, J., & Lou, H. C. (2002). Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Brain Research. Cognitive Brain Research, 13, 255–259.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. McCabe, J. A., et al. (2009). Appetitive and aversive taste conditioning in a computer game influences real world decision making and subsequent brain activation. Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 1046–1051.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Pessiglione, M., Schmidt, L., Draganski, B., Kalisch, R., Lau, H., Dolan, R. J., et al. (2007). How the brain translates money into force: A neuroimaging study of subliminal motivation. Science, 316, 904–906.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C., Diclemente, C. C. (1994).Changing for good: The revolutionary program that explains the six stages of change and teaches you how to free yourself from bad habits. W. Morrow.Google Scholar
  16. Suhler, C. L., & Churchland, P. S. (2009). Control: Conscious and otherwise. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 341–347.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Tang, Y. Y. (2017). Brain based learning and education: Principles and application. Elsevier.Google Scholar
  18. Tang, Y. Y. (2009). Exploring the brain, optimizing the life. Beijing: Science Press.Google Scholar
  19. Tang, Y. Y., & Tang, R. (2014). Ventral-subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and self-transcendence. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1000.Google Scholar
  20. Tang, Y. Y., & Tang, R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation on ADHD prevention and intervention. In ADHD—New Directions in Diagnosis and Treatment (pp. 293–301). InTech.Google Scholar
  21. Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R. (2015b). Mindfulness: Mechanism and application. In Arthur W. Toga (Ed.), Brain Mapping: An Encyclopedic Reference (Vol. 3, pp. 59–64). Academic Press: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  22. Tang, Y. Y., Ma, Y., Fan, Y., Feng, H., Wang, J., Feng, S., et al. (2009). Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short term meditation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 106(22), 8865–8870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tang, Y. Y., & Posner, M. I. (2009). Attention training and attention state training. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(5), 222–227.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Tang, Y. Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107(35), 15649–15652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tang, Y. Y., Rothbart, M. K., & Posner, M. I. (2012a). Neural correlates of establishing, maintaining and switching brain states. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(6), 330–337.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Tang, Y. Y., Lu, Q., Fan, M., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2012b). Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 109(26), 10570–10574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tang, Y. Y., Yang, L., Leve, L. D., & Harold, G. T. (2012c). Improving executive function and its neurobiological mechanisms through a mindfulness-based intervention: Advances within the field of developmental neuroscience. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 361–366.Google Scholar
  28. Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., & Posner, M. I. (2013a). Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 110(34), 13971–13975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tang, Y. Y., Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (2013b). Meditation improves self-regulation over the lifespan. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307,104–111.Google Scholar
  30. Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., Jiang, C., & Posner, M. I. (2014). Short-term meditation intervention improves self-regulation and academic performance. J Child Adolesc Behav., 2, 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tang, Y. Y., & Posner, M. I. (2014). Training brain networks and states. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(7), 345–350.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Tang, Y. Y., Holzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Tang, Y. Y., Posner, M. I., Rothbart, M. K., & Volkow, N. D. (2015c). Circuitry of self-control and its role in reducing addiction. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(8), 439–444.Google Scholar
  34. Teper, R., Segal, Z. V., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Inside the mindful mind: How mindfulness enhances emotion regulation through improvements in executive control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 449–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wiers, R. W., et al. (2007). Automatic and controlled processes and the development of addictive behaviors in adolescents: A review and a model. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 86, 263–283.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Wood, W., & Rünger, D. (2015). Psychology of habit. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 289–314.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Zilverstand, A., Parvaz, M. A., Moeller, S. J., & Goldstein, R. Z. (2016). Cognitive interventions for addiction medicine: Understanding the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Progress in Brain Research, 224, 285–304.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  2. 2.Department of Internal MedicineTexas Tech University Health Sciences CenterLubbockUSA

Personalised recommendations