Mindfulness research findings

White water lily surrounded by green leaves - illustration of the naturalness of holistic mindfulness research.Scientific mindfulness research findings continue to demonstrate how this ancient practice can have various beneficial effects. This article summarises mindfulness research findings that show that mindfulness practice reduces the risk for heart attacks, that it increases working memory capacity and improves study results, and that it prevents relapses into drug & alcohol abuse better than standard 12-step programs.

Mindfulness research into cardiovascular health

A mindfulness research project at Brown University, involving close to 400 participants, used the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to assess participants’ “dispositional mindfulness” (i.e. their awareness and attention to what they are thinking and feeling in the moment).

They then compared these scores with seven cardiovascular health indicators, and found that those who had a high MAAS score had an 83% greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health than those with low MAAS scores. [Ref. 1]

Mindfulness research on working memory capacity

A mindfulness research team led by Dr Michael Mrazek at University of Santa Barbara investigated how mindfulness skills training may affect cognitive functioning in students. The participants were 48 undergraduate students, some of whom were randomly selected to have a 2-week mindfulness training course.

Data was collected from the students’ graduate record examination (GRE) as well as from a working memory capacity test. The research team found that the students who had undergone mindfulness training markedly improved their scores on these assessments, demonstrating enhanced working memory capacity, ability to focus and reading comprehension, as compared with those who had not taken the mindfulness course. [2]

Mindfulness research on drug relapse prevention

This mindfulness research team recruited 286 people who had successfully completed substance abuse treatment and randomly assigned them to participate in one of three group therapy treatments for eight weeks.

One group did a standard 12-step program, another group did a cognitive-behavioural-based relapse prevention program, and the third group did a program combining relapse-prevention with mindfulness skills training.

After three months, participants in all three groups were performing similarly. But after another three months, both of the relapse-prevention groups began performing better than the 12-step program participants. At the one-year mark, the mindfulness-based relapse-prevention therapy outperformed the other two approaches, showing that a treatment program incorporating mindfulness practices is better over the long term than traditional approaches at preventing relapses of drug and alcohol abuse. [3]

Mindfulness and breathing

This study involved over 400 participants, and the technique investigated was the simple practice of counting breaths. Participants who demonstrated skill in breath counting were found to also have more meta-awareness, less mind-wandering, and better mood.

The researchers also found that 4 weeks of practising breath counting enhanced mindfulness and decreased mind-wandering, when compared to participants who underwent working memory training, or no training at all. [4]

The reason that I have included this last mindfulness research in this article is that it has common elements with Mindful Breathing Therapy, in that it focuses attention on the breathing. Mindful Breathing Therapy, however, has other elements included in it, which make it a much more powerful method for developing mindfulness skills, and for its effects on anxiety, depression etc. Read more here: Mindful Breathing Therapy

You may also be interested in reading some other articles about mindfulness…


  1. “Positive Associations of Dispositional Mindfulness with Cardiovascular Health: the New England Family Study” (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, and Buka). [International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, October 2014; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12529-014-9448-9]
  2. “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering” (Mrazek, Franklin, Phillips, Baird, and Schooler). [Psychological Science, May 2013; vol. 24, 5: pp. 776-781.]
  3. “Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders” (Bowen et al.). [JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(5):547-556. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4546]
  4. “A Mind You Can Count On: Validating Breath Counting as a Behavioral Measure of Mindfulness” (Levinson, Stoll, Kindy, Merry, and Davidson). [Frontiers in Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01202]