What Is the State of the Evidence?

A graph showing stress capacity

Graphic made up of questions: Is mindfulness effective? How does mindfulness work? What is the state of the evidence? How does it impact the brain and body?The research on mindfulness is booming. A search for the word mindfulness in Google Scholar yields over 355,000 results! In one month alone, the Mindfulness Research Journal reported on 48 new studies.

But with all this research--and surrounding media attention--there are issues and questions.  It is not always clear what these reports consider “mindfulness”: what are these people actually doing? And some reports ignore the complexities of the mindfulness research or draw broad conclusions that aren’t justified.  So let’s take a closer (and realistic) look at mindfulness research.

Types of mindfulness research

Here are some pieces of the research explosion:

  1. Researchers are conducting randomized control trials—the gold standard for assessing effectiveness of a treatment—and testing the impact of mindfulness programs against standard of care or other treatments for various symptoms or conditions.
  2. Other researchers are analyzing possible mechanisms that might explain why mindfulness helps, looking at behavior as well as biological measures, such as heart rate.
  3. Neuroscientists are exploring the impact of mindfulness on the structure and function of the brain using imaging techniques such as fMRI.
  4. There has been an explosion of summaries of the research with major systematic reviews and meta-analyses published in journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and Cochrane Reviews.