23 Mar 2015
The aim of this essay is to provide an explanation and critical evaluation of some studies concerning self-control, ego-depletion, and mindfulness. Firstly, related theoretical backgrounds are introduced. A range of work in those areas, alongside with any possible methodological drawbacks and typical results are then highlighted. Finally, conclusions are presented in particular relevance with my own intended research.
From day to day, people need to establish a proper balance between their personal needs and environmental demands. In many cases, there are always some discrepancies between what one wants to do and what is socially expected from him or her. In other cases, one's long-term goals could only be obtained at the expense of short-term gratification. The ability to exert self-control is arguable one of the most vital aspects of human functioning.
The terms self-control and self-regulation have been used interchangeably to refer to the self's capacity for altering its own dominant or habitual responses (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). In this sense, to exert self-control means to make a deliberate and conscious effort for changing the self or aspects of it; especially to bring it into line with any sort of standard or a personal goal (Baumeister et al., 2007).
Given that many human activities must involve some degree of self-control, it is not surprising that a host of evidences has linked good self-control to a variety of benefits. Typical outcomes include healthier interpersonal relationship, greater popularity, better mental health, effective coping skills, superior academic performance, as well as less vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse, aggression, criminality, and eating disorders (see Baumeister et al., 2007). However, exerting self-control is not without cost.
As proposed in Baumeister and colleagues' strength model, self-control is viewed as a single, limited resource that becomes depleted with use, resembling a muscle that gets tired after a period of work. Consequently, subsequent performances even on unrelated self-control tasks become worse. This temporary deficit is known as ego-depletion.
To test ego-depletion effects, Baumeister and colleagues have introduced a laboratory procedure called the dual task self-control paradigm. Using this procedure, participants in the experimental group are asked to perform the first self-control task (to induce ego-depletion), while the control group performs a comparable but neutral task. Later on, all participants are asked to perform the second unrelated self-control task. Performance on the second self-control task is used as the dependent variable. Typical self-control tasks to induce ego-depletion effects range from controlling attention, emotions, thoughts, and impulses, cognitive processing, making choices, and social processing (see Baumeister et al., 2007; Hagger et al., 2010).
In one of Baumeister et al.'s early study in 1998, regulating emotions while watching an upsetting video caused poorer performance on subsequent handgrip stamina. In their other study, suppressing thoughts about a white bear was followed by tendency to quickly give up on an unsolvable anagram. In these studies, controlling aspects of the self that are normally spontaneous and impulsive such as expressing emotions or the innate tendency to recall thoughts of a suggested object (the so-called cognitive rebound effect) requires effortful self-control and draws from a reservoir of self-control resources. In doing so, it depletes the resource leaving it less available to exert self-control on subsequent self-control tasks.
Following Baumeister et al.'s initial tests, studies have replicated the ego-depletion effects extensively. In fact, Hagger et al.'s (2010) meta-analysis on 83 studies has revealed a significant effect of ego-depletion on task-performance. Additionally, significant effects were demonstrated on other dependent variables, i.e., effort, perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue, and blood glucose level; even though small insignificant effects were found on positive affect and self-efficacy. Further, in terms of the feature of the tasks, these effects were demonstrated to be generally consistent across the sphere of depleting and dependent task, frequently used depleting and dependent tasks, presentation of task as single or separate experiments, type of dependent measure and control condition task, and whether the studies originate from Baumeister and collaborators' laboratory or other laboratories (Hagger et al., 2010); thus strengthening the generalisability of the ego-depletion effects.
Taken as a whole, research appears to establish a direct relationship between self-control and ego-depletion such that the more self-control leads to the more depletion. Even so, self-control and ego-depletion relation may be more complicated since other variables may enact as moderator. In terms of the features of the tasks, Hagger et al.'s (2010) have found that the effect size for ego-depletion was moderated by duration of the depleting task, interim period (the time period between the first and second self-control task), experiment presentation (as a single or separate experiment), task complexity, and use of dependent tasks in the making choice and cognitive spheres. For instance, the effect size in task complexity indicated that ego-depletion effect did not only stem from overriding automatic or habitual response (as originally proposed in Baumeister and colleagues' strength model) but also from performing difficult tasks that requires complex cognitive processing.
Previously, several moderating variables have also been listed by Baumeister et al. (2007), e.g., humour and laughter, positive emotions, cash incentive, implementation intentions (i.e., formulating "if-then" statements before entering a situation), social goals, and sleep and rest. However, they have also warned that none of these variables fully counteracts the depleted state in the sense of replenishing the depleted resource. Conversely these variables, "may all operate by inducing the person to expend more of the depleted resource" (Baumeister et al., 2007, p 353). In my proposed study, I suggest that an individual quality called mindfulness will be useful to mitigate the harmful effects of ego-depletion.
The concept of mindfulness originates from the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness meditation (Bishop et al., 2004; Brown & Ryan, 2003). Within the last years, Western mental health professionals and researcher have been extensively incorporated mindfulness meditation independent of any religious system. In psychotherapies setting, several alternative methods in teaching mindfulness as a skill are becoming increasingly popular, namely Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Relapse Prevention (RP). This is due to the mindfulness' fruitfulness in treating a broad range disorders, including pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, and eating disorders (see Baer, 2003 for a review).
Despite the varieties of methods used in mindfulness-based interventions, ranging from formal meditation practise to informal applications in everyday life, Baer's (2003) meta-analysis reveals that they commonly encourage participants to direct their attention to internal stimuli (bodily sensation, thoughts, emotion) or external event (sights, sound) as they arise, without making any judgement. It should be noted that because mindfulness training is modelled after meditation exercises, it often lead to not only mindfulness but also relaxation (Baer, 2003). Yet the goals of meditation and relaxation are completely different in that the first one aims to reduce reactive modes of mind, not to induce deep state of relaxation (Bishop et al., 2004).
In regards to mindfulness training, Bishop et al. (2004) and Brown, Ryan and Creswell (2007b) asserted that clinical approaches to understanding the nature of mindfulness are puzzling due to inconsistent methodologies and attempts to cultivate not only mindfulness per se, but also other related outcomes, such as self-control, emotion regulation, compassion, trust, etc. Likewise, many mindfulness researches emphasised on the effects of mindfulness training, not on understanding the meaning and expression of mindfulness itself. Thus the examination of the nature of mindfulness is essential to qualify it as a counteracting variable of ego-depletion.
Inasmuch as the ability to be mindful may be cultivated through meditation practise, mindfulness is also considered an inherent human quality of consciousness (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Scientific efforts to clarify the nature of this quality can be achieved through the development of sound theoretical models and measurements, as well as examination in rigorous studies. However, these attempts are faced with many challenges, both on theoretical and operational levels. To date, different authors have different views in defining what actually compromises mindfulness, and consequently in the ways to measure it.
One of the often cited mindfulness conceptualisation came from Bishop et al. (2004). They described mindfulness as a mode of awareness containing two components: (1) self-regulation of attention on immediate experiences, and (2) orientation to experiences characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance. Implicit in this definition was the authors' acknowledgement of mindfulness as a metacognitive process, which resembles a process of self-observation rather than self-knowledge per se (e.g., self-awareness, psychological mindedness, insight). In terms of temporal stability, they contended that mindfulness is similar to a skill that can be developed with practise. Moreover, as mindfulness needs to be purposely brought to experience then it is closer to a state than a trait.
The view that mindfulness is inherently a state is shared by other prominent authors, Brown and Ryan (2003). Additionally, they suggested that as untrained mindful individuals do exist and the level of mindfulness varies greatly from person to person then there is also a dispositional, trait-like tendency of being mindful. Even so, different from Bishop et al.'s (2004) proposal, they excluded the non-judgemental acceptance component, as they argued that it is functionally redundant in mindfulness. Their definition focused on a single factor encompassing attention to (i.e., the background radar of consciousness which operates on rather than within the contents of thoughts) and awareness of (i.e., the process of focusing conscious awareness) the present reality.
To test their proposal, Brown and Ryan (2003) developed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) through a series of correlational, quasi-experimental, and laboratory studies. The MAAS was not only designed to exclude any attitudinal components (i.e., acceptance, along with other mindfulness-associated attributes such as trust, patience, empathy, etc.) but also motivational components (the "why" of awareness attention) and other constructs related to well-being. It consists of 15 items indirectly assess mindfulness (e.g., I find myself preoccupied with the future or the past) using a 5-point Likert-scale (1= almost always; 6 = almost never). This indirect measure was supported by the authors' argument that for most people, mindless states are more accessible than mindful states. The MAAS showed internal consistency of Cronbach's alpha .82 for college students and adult population, as well as convergent and discriminant validity. For instance, in one study using experience sampling during daily activities, both trait mindfulness (using full version of MAAS) and state mindfulness (using only 5 items from the MAAS) were found to significantly predicted self-control behaviours and positive emotional states (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
An even more different approach was proposed by Baer et al. (2006). The authors maintained that in order to clarify the nature of a construct as complex as mindfulness, and to examine its relationships with other constructs, it is essential to measure it at the facet level. The facet structure was accessed from five available mindfulness questionnaires, i.e., MAAS; FMI (Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory); KIMS (Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skill); CAMS (Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale); and MQ (Mindfulness Questionnaires), given to large number of participants (613 and 268 undergraduate students). Through exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, five identified mindfulness facets were found, namely observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudging, and nonreactivity; setting up the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). The FFMQ consisted of 39 items using a 5-point Likert-scale, and was reported to have good reliability and adequate convergent, discriminant, and incremental validity (Baer et al., 2006).
In reviewing the development of multi-faceted approaches, Brown et al. (2007a, p.277) argue that, "more is not always better." Specifically, they cast doubt on whether any of those facets should be treated more as antecedents, mediators, or merely outcomes of mindfulness. They also posit while the clarification of mindfulness skills is important, equating these skills with mindfulness itself may otherwise express generic kind of adjustment. On the other side, I maintain that Brown and Ryan's (2003) single factor conceptualisation, particularly the exclusion of the non-judgemental acceptance component, can be also be questionable since awareness may not necessarily have to lead to acceptance, vice versa.
Current studies in the light of the argument on single-factor vs. multi-faceted approaches of mindfulness seem to equally support both notions. Baer et al.'s (2006) FFMQ is often used in research involving the cultivation of mindfulness in therapeutic or meditative contexts (e.g., Lykins, 2009; Steffens, 2009), while Brown and Ryan's (2003) MAAS is more likely applicable in the context of assessing the receptive attentional presence to ongoing experience (e.g., Lakey et al, 2007, Heppner et al., 2008).
Nevertheless, self-report method ubiquitously possesses significant limitations, e.g., demand characteristics. Therefore the incorporation of the more objective measurements, such as behavioural observation and neurological tools, are necessary. Moreover, as acknowledgeable mindfulness measurements were constructed in the context of Western societies, cross-cultural studies should also be conducted to further test the validity of these instruments.
While debate over the precise definition of mindfulness continues, it commonly involves elements of intentionally paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way (e.g., Baer et al., 2006; Bishop et al., 2004). Being mindful allows one to observe internal and external stimuli with greater clarity and objectivity as events in the mind (Baer, 2003). Without making any judgement, one will not react in automatic tendency to cling to certain phenomena and ignore others, thus a greater interest and engagement for life will be promoted (Brown, Ryan & Cresswell, 2007b).
Theoretically, the mechanism in which mindfulness may operate to replenish ego-depletion effect can be described as follow. As one's mindfulness quality begins to develop, the capacity to stand back and witness one's own mind will be increased. In turn, this capacity will enable one to no longer over-identify and react to stimuli in an automatic, habitual pattern of reactivity, which is also the mark individual's lack of self-control (Bishop et al., 2004).
Up to now, empirical studies have documented a preliminary link between mindfulness and self-control. For the sake of clarification, the studies reviewed in this paper will be categorised based on the taxonomy of self-control depleting and self-control dependent tasks by Hagger et al. (201o). However, it should be noted that there is only a limited number of studies investigating the application of mindfulness directly under Baumeister et.al.'s dual-task paradigm.
Tasks that entail social processing involve searching for appropriate social cues (Hagger et al., 2010). Two studies conducted by Heppner et al. (2008) examined the roles of trait and state mindfulness in mitigating aggressive behaviour. As stated earlier, good self-control is often linked to lower levels of aggression (Baumeister, et al., 2007). In Heppner et al.'s (2008) first study with 175 undergraduates, trait mindfulness (using the MAAS) was found to be related to lower trait aggression (AQ, Aggression Questionnaire by Buss and Perry, 1992) and hostile attribution bias (HABS, Hostile Attribution Bias Scale by Lakey et al., 2005). Interestingly, the MAAS correlated significantly with three subscales in the AQ (verbal aggression, anger, and hostility) but not with the physical aggression subscale. As such, this insignificant correlation could merely be attributed to the condition there was no control over the imbalance proportion in participants' sexes (43 men and 132 women), whereas women might be less sensitive to items measuring physical aggression (e.g., "Once in a while, I can't control the urge to strike another person.")
Heppner et al.'s (2008) second study was performed to test the effects of mindfulness induction to physical aggression following treat. Based on pre-arranged randomly determined results, 60 undergraduates (32 men, 28 women) were assigned to one of these feedback conditions: acceptance, rejection, and mindfulness-rejection. Before receiving the relevant feedback, mindfulness induction (the raisin-eating task adopted from the MBSR) was given to mindfulness-rejection group, while other two groups simply waited for approximately the same time (5 minutes). After all participants received their feedback, they performed a typical computer task used to measure aggressions. As predicted, the aggression levels for mindfulness-rejection condition was lower than that of the rejection only condition, and did not differ from the acceptance condition. However, this study did not measure neither participant's levels of mindfulness nor include any manipulation check of the mindfulness induction (as the authors feared of sensitizing participant). Manipulation check was indeed necessary to conclude that it was mindfulness induction per se that caused the effects. This could also helped explain the mechanism behind these results (i.e., whether the lower levels of aggression were mediated by self-control or by other potential variable such as ego-involvement). In addition, it would be better if participants in the control conditions (the acceptance and rejection groups) received similar treatment (e.g., relaxation, to rule out the chance that relaxation alone could account for the effects of mindfulness induction) rather than just waiting (which may, for instance, affect their mood or induce the feeling of boredom). Despite these limitations, however, it is encouraging to note that such significant effects were produced through a relatively brief period of mindfulness induction, whereas the original MBSR program takes almost 8 weeks of intensive practice.
Impulse control tasks require participants to resist gratifying action or override habitual response (Hagger et al., 2010). Two experimental works by Wenk-Sormaz (2005) examined the effects of mindfulness induction in this sphere of self-control. Using two samples of 120 and 90 undergraduates, the author applied pre-test and post-test designs with a 20-minute intervening attention task (i.e., meditation as a form of mindfulness induction, rest, or cognitive control). Relative to controls, mindfulness induction participants in Study 1 showed less habitual responses on the Stroop task, and similar trend was found in Study 2 on the category production task. These findings suggest that mindfulness induction leads to a reduction on habitual responding, which is the key indicator of successful self-control in cognitive sphere. These results are of course more convincing than Heppner et al.'s (2008) study, as the authors did incorporate similar treatments to the control conditions (i.e., rest and cognitive control) and replicated the mindfulness induction in two studies. However, this research did not measure participants' self-control trait that might become a confounding factor for this significant effects.
Again, one point that should be highlighted is that controlling trait self-control is essential to positively conclude the effect of mindfulness on self-control ego-depletion relation is independent of the effect of trait self-control. Research that ruled out the effects of trait self-control in impulse control difficulty was performed by Lakey, Campbell, Brown, & Goodie (2007) by employing the Self-Control Scale (SCS) constructed by Tangney, Baumeister, and Boone's in 2004. Specifically, the impulse control they were interested in was gambling behaviour. One of Lakey et al.'s study with 185 undergraduate frequent gamblers demonstrated that trait mindfulness (measured by MAAS) were related to less severe gambling task outcomes, even after controlling trait self-control (measured by SCS), gambling frequency, and gender. This finding implied that mindfulness may have more crucial role in predicting self-control difficulty manifests in gambling behaviour than low capacity for self-control, as such. The mechanism behind this relation was explained through their second laboratory study. Among 309 undergraduate frequent gamblers, greater accuracy in general knowledge and less overconfidence were shown by the mindful individuals, suggesting that mindfulness may allow deeper stimuli processing and heightened risk recognition. Even so, granted that these studies did not examine the causal direction between mindfulness and a specific behaviour (i.e., gambling) then an exploration using mindfulness induction is necessary to positively concluded that it is mindfulness that affects gambling tendencies and not the other way around.
Attention control tasks require participants to focus their attention from any distraction (Hagger et al., 2010). The impact of mindfulness on attentional control in emotional contexts was tested by Ortner, Kilner and Zalazo (2007). The authors proposed that mindfulness meditation teaches individual to undermine prolonged reactivity to negative stimuli. Consequently, individuals who are able to moderate response to such stimuli will perform a more optimal cognitive function, and in turn reduce the likelihood of experiencing long-term effects of negative emotions. To test their hypothesis, two studies were conducted, both included behavioural measure of emotional interference (using Buodo et al.'s EIT, Emotional Interference Task), along with subjective measures for intensity of feeling (PRT, Picture Rating Task), state mindfulness (Bishop's TMR, Toronto Mindfulness Scale), trait mindfulness (Brown & Ryan's MAAS), and other standardised personality, self-compassion, and subjective and psychological well-being questionnaires. Study 1 examined the association between the duration of experience in mindfulness meditation and emotional reactivity, using 28 meditators who have practised mindfulness meditation for 1 month to 29 years (with median of 23 months). Using the EIT, participants were asked to classified tones (as high or low) presented at either 1 s or 4 s following the onset of a neutral, pleasant, or unpleasant picture. The mean differences in participants' reaction time to tones during neutral pictures and to that during pleasant or unpleasant pictures served as the emotional interference scores. As predicted, the longer the duration of practising mindfulness meditation, the lower the scores of emotional interference from unpleasant pictures. However, this reduction of emotional interference was only negatively correlated with state mindfulness (measured by the TMS) but not associated with trait mindfulness (the MAAS scores). Conversely, the TMS revealed no correlation with any subjective measure of well-being or personality, while the MAAS was positively correlated with well-being and negatively correlated with neuroticism and negative affect. To explain this differing pattern, the authors contended that it might be due to condition that the acceptance component, which might be more related to emotion regulation, was excluded from the MAAS.
Ortner et al.'s (2007) second study implemented similar procedures but also included psychophysiological measures of emotional reactivity, i.e., the skin conductance response (SCRs) and baseline skin conductance response (SCL). Of particular interest of this study was to control the effects of relaxation to emotional reactivity, as mindfulness meditation may also induce relaxation. Participants from an urban university were randomly assigned to mindfulness meditation training (21 subjects), relaxation meditation training (23 subjects), or waiting-list control group (24 subjects). The first two groups received a 7-week course (1.5-h each week) for mindfulness meditation or relaxation meditation, and also completed a daily log of their practise. Data were taken prior to the training and after 7 weeks. Interestingly, the reduction of emotional interference only happened in the mindfulness meditation group for unpleasant pictures at 4 s. This supported the authors' notion that at least at the beginning of mindfulness meditation practise, greater emphasis was put upon regulating negative affect than positive one; as with the more experienced meditators in study 1, significant effects were found for both pleasant and unpleasant pictures. Further, while both mindfulness meditation and relaxation meditation groups showed smaller skin conductance responses (SCR) to unpleasant stimuli and improve well-being, only the mindfulness group showed increase in mindfulness scores (both in TMS and MAAS) and decrease in baseline rating (SCL), strengthening evidence that it was mindfulness meditation (and not relaxation) that served as the key element to improve well-being, possibly through undermining prolonged reactivity to negative stimuli. The changes in state mindfulness provided important manipulation check to indicate that their mindfulness meditation training did actually worked.
However, I propose few drawbacks in both Ortner et al.'s (2007) studies. Firstly, the authors' reason for using different instruments to measure state and trait mindfulness was yet unclear, as both can be measured through Brown and Ryan's (2003) MAAS. Also, the reason why the reduction of emotional interference was more strongly related to state mindfulness might not necessarily because of the exclusion of the acceptance component from the MAAS, but it could simply due to temporal proximity of the state level to immediate experiences that the trait level. More importantly, the sequence of measurements seemed to be questionable. Both studies began with the EIT, followed by the PRT, and then closed with other questionnaires (starting with the TMS). To my knowledge, since the PRT required attentional self-control then there was a possibility that it might induce some degrees of ego-depletion (of course this assumption need to be tested under the dual-task paradigm). Being depleted, the effects of participants' mindfulness training might not be reflected accurately. This was particularly true for the state level, which tended to be fluctuated by variety of factors (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Thus it would be more reasonable if the levels of mindfulness (and psychological constructs in these studies) were measured prior to the EIT and PRT rather than after the tasks.
As stated before, although there are quite numerous studies on the effects of mindfulness to self-control, only limited number examine it specifically under the dual-task paradigm. This is surprising considering that substantial overlaps have been found between trait self-control and trait mindfulness (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003; Lakey, et al., 2007). Moreover, mindfulness and self-control appear to share a number of features, particularly in their daily execution and typical outcomes (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007a; Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007).
In this regards, it is of particular interest to underpin a recent theoretical work by Masicampo and Baumeister (2007). These authors propose that the mechanism of mindfulness can be understood more appropriately within self-control paradigm. This proposal is supported by their argument that because there is a limitation for people to simply focus on the present moment then it is more plausible for them to firstly attain their goals that create the associated intrusive thoughts. Consequently, trait mindfulness is more likely to be acquired through goal fulfilment rather than through meditation or by choice. They also propose that the reason trait mindfulness is occasionally related to well-being is because both variables are caused by the individual's capacity for self-control. In particular, they reiterate that mindfulness-based interventions may produce positive outcomes because they are basically one example of an extended self-control exercise. As indicated in Hagger et al.'s (2010) meta-analysis, self-control training was beneficial to increase postdepletion self-control performance, and moreover can help enlarge the global self-control resource.
Masicampo and Baumeister (2007) commentaries are indeed challenging since on the conceptual ground, mindfulness and self-control use different mode of consciousness. Even though good self-control and mindfulness may produce similar behaviours, the cost would be different, in that self-controlled regulation is depleting while mindfulness appears to be vitalizing and energizing (Brown & Ryan, 2003). The flourishing effects of mindfulness seem to be related to its nature of "non-thought suppression" (Bishop et al., 2004) and "stronger perception of having enough" (c.f. Brown, Ryan & Craswell, 2007a).
Moreover, in terms of ultimate ends, "Unlike self-control, mindfulness is not primarily a tool to keep the self moving in a preordained direction. It is rather the capacity to, Â¬Ârst and foremost, be aware of the ongoing parade put on by the self, including one's attempts to exert self control" (Brown et al., 2007a, p. 276). Thus mindfulness guided behaviour tends to be regulated in accord to one's chosen values, while self-controlled behaviour stems from a personally or socially derived pressure.
Warranted by Masicampo and Baumeister's (2007) proposal, Lykins (2009) examined the effects of mindfulness and meditation practise on participants' self-control within the dual-task paradigm. Specifically, she used a two-step handgrip procedure, in which a handgrip task was used as the depleting and later on as the dependent task. A handgrip task belongs to the controlling impulse sphere of self-control (Hagger et al., 2010). As the author was also interested to test Bishop et al.'s (2004) hypotheses, in that mindfulness practice will to lead to improvements in specific aspects of cognitive and emotional functioning, she included the behavioural measurements for attention, learning, memory, cognitive and emotional biases. Thirty three meditators, 33 age-matched non-meditating group and 32 students participated in this study. Interestingly, significant differences between meditators and non-meditators were only reflected in short-term memory, long-term memory, and self-control. In particular, very large differences were found in the regular meditating self-control strength compared to their nonmeditating control group. Thus contrary to Bishop et al. (2004) proposal, these results indicate that meditation practise and mindfulness are more closely linked to self-control than to emotional and cognitive functioning. However, despite the significantly higher scores for meditators in terms of total score of mindfulness (FFMQ), they did not experienced less ego-depletion than nonmeditators. Moreover, in the absence of meditating experience, either correlation was found between mindfulness skills (FFMQ) and emotional and cognitive functioning or self-control performance. These findings contradicted Masicampo and Baumeister's (2007) proposal that self-control actually causes trait mindfulness. However, given that the author did not used randomised control trials then it can be questioned whether the effects are due to meditation practise and not to confounding variables. More rigorous investigations are indeed timely in this direction.
Experimental study using mindfulness induction within the strength model of self-control was conducted by Steffens (2009). Here, participants were separated into one of these following conditions, i.e., mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and control group. The mindfulness meditation group practised with a 13 min guided audio of focusing on the physical sensation of breathing without attempting to change anything, the relaxation group performed with a 15 min guided audio of alternately tensing and relaxing specific body parts; both groups were told to practise at home six times a week for two weeks. After two weeks, all participants (i.e., 27 in the mindfulness meditation condition, 29 in the relaxation condition, and 21 in the control condition) were asked to perform similar ego-depletion task. The first self-control task was crossing out all the letter "e" in a document with five exceptions listed as the rule, and the second one was a tedious anagram task. Based on Hagger et al.'s (2010) taxonomy, the first task is classified as controlling impulse, while second one involves cognitive processing. Between these tasks, participants either practised mindfulness induction, relaxation, or sat quietly (while performing any self-directed activity which did not include anything cognitively stressful) for 15 minutes. Contrary to hypothesis, no significant differences were found in participants' self-control strength (persistence of time on the anagram task). Accordingly, some possible explanations were acknowledged by the author. For instance, the self-directed activity performed by the control group may be equal to relaxation itself. Also, the first self-control task may not sufficiently be ego-depleting, as by the end of the task participants reported that they have memorised its rule. The author also posed a question in regards to the necessity for threshold level of practising mindfulness meditation to reap its benefits.
As such, I propose that before conducting such experiment, it is advisable in to firstly establish the relationship between trait mindfulness (using mindfulness questionnaire or other measurements) and self-control performance resulting from ego-depletion, and this relation should be independent of trait self-control. Further, in terms of investigating the effects of mindfulness training and relaxation, participants' levels of mindfulness should be measured before and after the training period itself, prior to entering the experimental conditions. Also, apart from the appropriate manipulation check, it is also necessary to include a non-depleting task as independent variable. In other words, it will be more worthwhile for such study to incorporate a 2 x 2 design (depletion vs. no depletion x mindfulness induction vs. relaxation) or if necessary a 2 x 3 design (adding the self-directed activity as another independent variable). Of course, this is not always applicable as a large number of participants are required.
From the strength model of self-control perspective, one's ability to perform further self-control acts is compromised until the resource for self-control can be replenished. Mindfulness, unlike other moderating variables listed by Baumeister et al. (2007) (e.g., humour and laughter, positive emotions, cash incentive, implementation intentions, social goals, and sleep and rest), is an inherent quality that can also be improved through practise. However, since it originates outside the Western scientific tradition then incorporating it into a systematic investigation is indeed a challenging task. As suggested by Bryan et al. (2007b), the greatest task for mindfulness research is to develop theoretical models examining the link between the conditions that support mindfulness, mindfulness itself, process explaining its effects, and outcomes of mindfulness state, trait, and intervention.
As revealed in this review, correlational studies seem to establish a preliminary link between mindfulness and self-control. Specifically, mindfulness trait is found to be correlated with both trait self-control and self-control behaviours, at least in the spheres of social and cognitive processing, as well as of impulse and attention control. However, this findings may evoke a critical question regarding the uniqueness of mindfulness, since trait mindfulness is modestly to moderately related with trait self-control (Brown et al., 2007a), and moreover mindfulness and self-control training seem to use similar methods and produce likely outcomes (Muraven & Baumeister, 2007). To clarify the nature of mindfulness and its underlying mechanism then it is of course necessary to conduct a rigorous control trial study.
Nevertheless, a number of methodological experimental drawbacks found in this review should be taken into consideration. Firstly, not every experimental study includes manipulation check to test the effects of mindfulness induction. As the types of mindfulness induction seem to put more weight on different features, then a careful examination should be made to account for the effectiveness of each type, including the length of time of the mindfulness induction. Further, it seems more justified to design a control trial investigation that involves equal condition between groups, rather than using a no-treatment or waiting-list control group. For instance, because mindfulness is also proposed to lead a state of relaxation then it is reasonable to include a relaxation condition to one of the control group to rule out its effects. Moreover, participants' self-control trait should also be assessed so that we can positively conclude that the observed changes in such studies are merely due to mindfulness induction. Finally, to clarify the differences between mindfulness and self-control, future research should attempt to examine the moderating effects of mindfulness induction to the relationship between ego-depletion and self-control, independent of the effects of trait self-control and self-control exercise.
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