- People conceive messages about healthy lifestyle choices differently.
- A new study revealed that the reason for this is because people who are more mindful are more receptive to health messaging and more likely to be motivated to change.
- Mindfulness prompts positive reaction to an emotionally charged situation.
For some people, well-meaning and well-researched messages about how to be healthier, prompts real change and enable them to adapt to habits like quitting smoking, exercising more and eating better.
But for other people, these messages prompt only a defensive and resentful reaction like "Stop nagging and leave me alone."
‘People who engage in mindful thinking are more receptive to health advice and will be more motivated to make healthy lifestyle changes.’
The study by researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania examines the role of mindfulness in health communication.
Researchers wanted to know why some people hear these messages so differently, and how it can be made more effective.
The findings revealed that people who are more mindful are more receptive to health messaging and more likely to be motivated to change.
Impact of Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be defined as having awareness of the present moment
According to lead author Yoona Kang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School, in previous studies, mindfulness has shown to reduce negative reactions to emotionally charged situations.
"Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways, so we investigated factors, including mindfulness, that could potentially influence people to be more receptive to health messages and more motivated to change their behavior," said senior author Emily Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School.
The study the effect of mindfulness on healthier choices, researchers assembled a group of people who achieve only low levels of weekly exercise and exposed them to a variety of health messages.
- observed the reactions of the participants to the health messages
- recorded their motivation or lack of motivation to change their behavior
- made inquires as to whether the participants had actually changed their behavior
Participants were asked to complete the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), to gauge their mindfulness.
The MAAS is composed of 15 scenarios, including "I forget a person's name almost as soon as I've been told it for the first time" and "I tend to walk quickly to get where I'm going without paying attention to what I experience along the way," that are answered on a scale of 1 to 6, ranging from "almost always" to "almost never."
If a person's total score is higher, more mindful that person is considered to be.
The study showed that less mindful people were also less likely to make a positive change in behavior as a response to health messaging
"Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves," said Falk, "and that didn't help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn't help us have a healthier, happier population."
Mindfulness prompted less negative reaction among people to health messages and they were less likely to feel ashamed by them
. These people, were also more likely to change their behavior to be healthier.
"Individuals may benefit from cultivating mindful attention when processing potentially threatening yet beneficial health information," said Kang. "It's possible that incorporating mindfulness cultivation into existing intervention strategies can promote more widespread positive health behavior."
The study titled "Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation," is published in the journal Mindfulness
- Yoona Kang et al. Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation. Mindfulness ; (2017) DOI: 10.1007/s12671-016-0608-7