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Mindful : February 2015
Socializing Makes You Smarter Par ticipating in complex and diverse social networks is par t of what makes us human. Unlike other primates, you may be a child, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, an employee, a volunteer, a coach, a student, a member of a choir, and a friend. That’s a lot of hats to wear, which can be stressful. But a recent study in the journal Psychological Science suggests there are benefits as well. George Mason University researchers Sarah Dziura and James Thompson asked 26 par ticipants to fill out sur veys about the size and diversity of their social networks, as well as how involved were they in each social role. The par ticipants then under- went a two and a half hour functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, where one group watched a series of two-second videos that asked them to interpret body language. The researchers examined activity in brain regions known to be involved in perceiving and interpreting nonverbal social cues, especially the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS). They did indeed find more activation in the pSTS in people who had richer and more diverse social networks, though the results were less clear-cut in other regions. The bottom line, however, is that people who play more diverse social roles may be better able to perceive and decode nonverbal cues in a variety of social settings—a finding that needs to be confirmed by more studies. But this one does confirm something many people would consider to be common sense: Diversifying your social networks may increase your social and emotional intelligence. HEALTHY MIND, HEALTHY HEART Many studies have found that mindful- ness can support our health, but the cred- ibility of those studies has often suffered from small sample sizes. A new, authorita- tive study from Brown University looked specifically at the relationship between cardiovascular health and “dispositional mindfulness”—that is, an uncultivated and nat ural moment-to-moment awareness. The resea rchers measured the mindful traits of 400 people, asking participants if, for example, they tend to “break or spill things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else.” When the researchers a nalyzed those a nswers in relation to their health, they found strong evidence that being a mindful person went hand in hand with a hea lthier heart and lungs, often because these qualities were associated with not smoking and with getting reg ula r exer- cise. In other words, moment-to-moment changes in thinking didn’t seem to im- prove health on its own—instead, mindful traits seem to boost positive behaviors a nd undermine negative ones. PAIN, PAIN, GO AWAY Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the pioneer- ing mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) prog ram, has long cited evidence that mindfulness meditation helps with pain management. In a st udy published in the November 2014 edition of the journal Pain Medicine, Peter la Cour and Marian Petersen randomly sorted 109 patients with chronic pain into either an MBSR training prog ram or a wait list control group. They measured pain, physical f unc- tion, mental function, pain acceptance, and quality of life over a two and a half year period—and the researchers found that those who went through the training were significantly better at accepting and man- aging chronic pain, and seemed to have more vitality. While there’s nothing new or revolutiona ry about these results, it’s a critical part of the scientific process for findings to be confirmed or echoed in other studies—which in this case adds to the case for mindfulness in medical settings. For individual study citations, please visit mindful.org/ researchroundup CONFIDENT LEADERS Researchers at the University of West- minster measured the self-perception of leadership skills among a sample of senior managers in the London area, and then put them through a 12-week meditation training program. Their results, published in the Academy of Management Proceed- ings, revealed that training significantly enhanced overall self-confidence, as well as individual skills like inspiring a shared vision and demonstrating moral intel- ligence. However, the authors conclude, “meditation did not statistically signifi- cantly enhance participants’ skills as a role model and enabling others to act”—areas that will need more study in the future. LESS REACTIVE PARENTING Increasing evidence suggests mindfulness training can improve pa renting skills. A new paper published in the Summer 2014 issue of the journal New Directions for Youth Development describes one group’s efforts to correct for methodological weaknesses a nd small sample sizes of previous papers by embedding their work in a well-tested, evidence-based family prevention program. Working with an experienced developer from the Strength- ening Fa milies Prog ra m, the resea rchers created activities based on core mindful- ness practices, modified for parents, em- phasizing managing reactions to negative feelings or behaviors in their kids. The results suggest that infusing mindful- ness activities into an existing parenting program is viable and can provide many benefits to parents. Next, the authors plan to launch a trial with over 400 families. If successful, it may provide a model for programs around the country. ● Research gathered by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and compiled and written by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. 16 mindful February 2015 brain science Research Roundup