Many of us can admit that we often get caught up with the stresses and anxieties associated with student life, so we simply don’t make the time to slow down and breathe it all in. It wouldn’t help that the roses have probably all frozen over this time of the year.
However, psychology professor Norman Farb advises that mindfulness training and taking the time to “watch what we do without reacting to our emotional distresses,” is something that has the potential to change the way we perceive and react to stress in the long run.
“The way that life is for most people now, there is no time or structure around having just quiet reflection. Even when waiting for the bus, we end up checking our phone. We don’t see it as an opportunity to have some quiet time to notice and be curious about things,” he says.
Professor Farb is in the process of completing a study which seeks to test the effectiveness of mindfulness training through an app he helped develop, called Wildflowers Mindfulness. Currently, the research literature on mindfulness training is limited, and claims that the benefits of meditation are based on intensive meditation sessions, usually held in hour-long group lessons. Tracking 80 student participants over a period of three weeks, his study, which began last summer, evaluates whether these benefits, if any, can be achieved through one minute of training on the Wildflowers Mindfulness app or the 2048 problem-solving game.
The ability to detach yourself and still be present to what’s happening around you is the kind of initial process that professor Farb is trying to get people to have through their experiences with the app. To operationalize the study, pre and post-mood evaluations and physiological testing (heartbeat detection), built into both apps, will evaluate outcomes within 10-minute sessions and across the three-week duration of the study. During pre and post-lab evaluations, participants will be asked to complete formal questionnaires that evaluate mental health, acceptfulness, and mindfulness. “We want to see if people improve in these [and other] areas after using the app, and if there is interaction between the types of app they are using.”
With data collection anticipated to be completed in March, professor Farb comments on what his hypothesis is for what the outcomes of the study will look like once he is able to evaluate the data after it has been collected. “I would expect that the Wildflowers Mindfulness group would show greater increases in things like acceptance of negative emotions, where we think ‘It’s okay if I feel bad sometimes.’”
It’s an interesting time for this kind of exploration, but the hype exceeds the evidence at this point, which could be a cause for concern. But professor Farb thinks of it as a “chance for cautious optimism for emerging technology that has the potential for self-transformation.”