Van Dam, N. T., van Vugt, M. K., Vago, D. R., Schmalzl, L., Saron, C. D., Olendzki, A., … & Meyer, D. E. (2018). Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 36-61.
During the past two decades, mindfulness meditation has gone from being a fringe topic of scientific investigation to being an occasional replacement for psychotherapy, tool of corporate well-being, widely implemented educational practice, and “key to building more resilient soldiers”. Yet the mindfulness movement and empirical evidence supporting it have not gone without criticism. Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed. Addressing such concerns, the present article discusses the difficulties of defining mindfulness, delineates the proper scope of research into mindfulness practices, and explicates crucial methodological issues for interpreting results from investigations of mindfulness. For doing so, the authors draw upon their diverse areas of expertise to review the present state of mindfulness research, comprehensively summarizing what we do and do not know, while providing a prescriptive agenda.
A new commentary:
Davidson, R.J., & Dahl, C.J. (2018). Outstanding challenges in scientific research on mindfulness and meditation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 1, 62-65.
Van Dam et al. raise a number of critical issues in contemporary research on mindfulness and meditation and offer a prescriptive agenda for future work in this area. While we agree with all of the key points made in their article, there are a number of important issues omitted that are central to a comprehensive agenda for future research in this area. This commentary highlights five key points: (a) Many of the key methodological issues the article raises are not specific to research on mindfulness; (b) contemplative practices are varied, and the landscape of modern scientific research has evolved to focus almost exclusively on one or two types of practice to the exclusion of other forms of practice that are potentially highly impactful; (c) mindfulness and related contemplative practices were not originally developed to treat disease; (d) key issues of duration, intensity and spacing of practice, and the extent to which formal meditation practice is required or whether practice can be piggybacked onto other non–cognitively demanding activities of daily living (e.g., commuting) remain as among the most important practical questions for disseminating these practices more widely, yet have received scant serious research attention; and (e) the use of mobile technology in both disseminating contemplative training and assessing its impact is going to be required to solve some of the key methodological challenges in this area including standardizing training across sites and addressing individual differences (which will require very large-N studies).
And a reply:
van Dam, N.T., van Vugt, M.K., Vago, D.R, Schmalzl, L., Saron, C.D., Olendski, A., Meissner, T, Lazar, S.W., Gorchov, J., Fox, K.C.R., Field, B.A., Britton, W.B., Brefczynski-Lewis, J.A., & Meyer, D.E. (2018). Reiterated concerns and further challenges for mindfulness and meditation research: A reply to Davidson and Dahl. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 1, 66-69.
In response to our article, Davidson and Dahl offer commentary and advice regarding additional topics crucial to a comprehensive prescriptive agenda for future research on mindfulness and meditation. Their commentary raises further challenges and provides an important complement to our article. More consideration of these issues is especially welcome because limited space precluded us from addressing all relevant topics. While we agree with many of Davidson and Dahl’s suggestions, the present reply (a) highlights reasons why the concerns we expressed are still especially germane to mindfulness and meditation research (even though those concerns may not be entirely unique) and (b) gives more context to other issues posed by them. We discuss special characteristics of individuals who participate in mindfulness and meditation research and focus on the vulnerability of this field inherent in its relative youthfulness compared to other more mature scientific disciplines. Moreover, our reply highlights the serious consequences of adverse experiences suffered by a significant subset of individuals during mindfulness and other contemplative practices. We also scrutinize common contemporary applications of mindfulness and meditation to illness, and some caveats are introduced regarding mobile technologies for guidance of contemplative practices.