Research Project Title
Date of Project
Dr. Whitney L. Heppner
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Mindfulness, the trait or state of heightened attention and awareness of the present moment, has been connected to a wide variety of self-regulatory behaviors, including health behaviors. Specifically, mindfulness has been linked to smoking cessation (Heppner et al., 2015), reduced alcohol misuse (Murphy & MacKillop, 2011), and reduced substance abuse (Witkiewitz & Bowen, 2010). Additionally, mindfulness-based dialectical behavior therapy has been successful in teaching affect regulation skills to patients with binge eating disorder (BED). BED patients were also more adept in using these regulation skills during negative affect experiences (Kristeller, Baer, & Quillian-Wolever, 2006). Even though research links mindfulness to increased health behaviors, particularly less disordered eating, specific mechanisms by which mindfulness mediates self-regulation of health behaviors have yet to be empirically clarified. Self-regulatory capacity provides a potential explanatory mechanism. Gailliot et al. (2007) found blood glucose level to be a valid index of this self-regulatory capacity; glucose levels fell when participants performed self-control tasks, and depleted glucose levels additionally impaired subsequent tasks requiring self-control. Thus, the current study proposes that a short mindfulness meditation task will increase self-regulation of health behaviors, mediated by blood glucose levels. Other potential mediators studied through self-report include vitality, construal levels, state mindfulness, and mood. Participants for this study (N = 63) are students from a small liberal arts university in the southeastern United States. Participants complete several trait and state mindfulness surveys and are randomly assigned to one of three conditions: “no cognitive depletion,” “cognitive depletion,” or “cognitive depletion plus mindfulness.” In the no depletion condition, participants complete a crossing out letters task. In the depletion condition, participants complete a similar crossing out letters task with complex rules resulting in cognitive depletion. In the depletion plus mindfulness condition, participants complete the same effortful crossing out letters task, and they also complete a mindfulness meditation task. Baseline and post-depletion blood glucose levels are assessed with an over-the-counter Accu-Chek Compact glucose monitor. At the end of the study, participants have the opportunity to eat healthful and unhealthful foods (i.e., rice cakes and chocolate chip cookies). We found that those in the depletion plus mindfulness condition exhibited healthier eating behavior than those in the depletion only condition. These findings illustrate the ability of mindfulness meditation to restore the capacity to self-regulate a health behavior, though we did not find change in blood glucose level to be the biological mechanism.
McCrary, Elizabeth, "Mindfulness, Self-regulatory Capacity, and Regulation of Health Behaviors - 2015 Award Winner" (2015). Russell Library Undergraduate Research Award. 1.