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Contemplative practices are believed to alleviate psychological problems, cultivate prosocial behavior and promote self-awareness. In addition, psychological science has developed tools and models for understanding the mind and promoting well-being. Additional effort is needed to combine frameworks and techniques from these traditions to improve emotional experience and socioemotional behavior. An 8-week intensive (42 hr) meditation/emotion regulation training intervention was designed by experts in contemplative traditions and emotion science to reduce “destructive enactment of emotions” and enhance prosocial responses. Participants were 82 healthy female schoolteachers who were randomly assigned to a training group or a wait-list control group, and assessed preassessment, postassessment, and 5 months after training completion. Assessments included self-reports and experimental tasks to capture changes in emotional behavior. The training group reported reduced trait negative affect, rumination, depression, and anxiety, and increased trait positive affect and mindfulness compared to the control group. On a series of behavioral tasks, the training increased recognition of emotions in others (Micro-Expression Training Tool), protected trainees from some of the psychophysiological effects of an experimental threat to self (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST), appeared to activate cognitive networks associated with compassion (lexical decision procedure), and affected hostile behavior in the Marital Interaction Task. Most effects at postassessment that were examined at follow-up were maintained (excluding positive affect, TSST rumination, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia recovery). Findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior, and they support the benefit of integrating contemplative theories/practices with psychological models and methods of emotion regulation.
The effects of randomization to mindfulness training (MT) or to a waitlist-control condition on psychological and physiological indicators of teachers’ occupational stress and burnout were examined in 2 field trials. The sample included 113 elementary and secondary school teachers (89% female) from Canada and the United States. Measures were collected at baseline, post-program, and 3-month follow-up; teachers were randomly assigned to condition after baseline assessment. Results showed that 87% of teachers completed the program and found it beneficial. Teachers randomized to MT showed greater mindfulness, focused attention and working memory capacity, and occupational self-compassion, as well as lower levels of occupational stress and burnout at post-program and follow-up, than did those in the control condition. No statistically significant differences due to MT were found for physiological measures of stress. Mediational analyses showed that group differences in mindfulness and self-compassion at post-program mediated reductions in stress and burnout as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression at follow-up. Implications for teaching and learning are discussed.