Mindfulness: Psychology Of Possibilities Can Enhance Health, Happiness
- First-time mothers who pay attention to their emotional
and physical changes during their pregnancy may feel
better and have healthier newborns than new mothers who
don't, according to research to be presented at American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention.
"These findings continue more than 40 years of research
that has made clear that whether you are mindless or mindful
makes a big difference in every aspect of your health and
well-being -- from competence to longevity," Ellen Langer,
professor of psychology at Harvard University and a pioneer
in researching mindfulness, said in an interview. Langer
is a past recipient of APA's Award for Distinguished
Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest.
For Langer's recent study, researchers trained women
pregnant with their first child in mindfulness with
instructions to notice subtle changes in their feelings
and physical sensations each day, she said. When compared
with two other groups of first-time pregnant mothers who
did not have the mindfulness training, these women reported
more well-being and positive feelings and less emotional
distress. "They had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction
during this period of their pregnancy and up to at least
a month after birth," Langer said. "And this also had a
positive impact on their deliveries and overall health of the newborns."
Teaching mindfulness through attention to variability may
be helpful for many disorders, including asthma, depression and learning disabilities, to name a few, according to Langer.
"Noticing even subtle fluctuations in how you feel can
counter mindlessness, or the illusion of stability. We tend
to hold things still in our minds, despite the fact that
all the while they are changing. If we open up our minds,
a world of possibility presents itself," she said.
Author of the popular books "Mindfulness," "The Power of
Mindful Learning," "On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing
Yourself Through Mindful Creativity," and most recently, "Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of
Possibility," Langer is known for her work on the illusion of control, aging, decision-making and mindfulness theory.
In her lecture, Langer will describe her research to
test possibilities rather than find out what is typical. "Psychologists have traditionally studied the 'norm'
rather than exceptions that could show that we are capable
of far more than we currently realize," she said. Among
other research, she will describe her work showing how a
change in mindset has resulted in weight loss and improved
vision and hearing, and how subtle differences in choice
of words can improve health.
Langer first demonstrated the psychology of possibilities
in her landmark 1981 "counterclockwise" experiment in which
a group of elderly men spent time immersed in a retreat
created to reflect daily life in the 1950s and where they
were told to speak of the past in the present tense. Men in a comparison group reminisced for the week and were given no instructions regarding verb tense. The experimental group
showed greater improvement in vision, strength, joint
flexibility, finger length (their arthritis diminished and
they could straighten their fingers more) and manual dexterity.
On intelligence tests, 63 percent of the experimental group
improved their scores, compared to 44 percent of the control
group, Langer said.
BBC television recently replicated the study with British
celebrities in a program that has been viewed in Great Britain, Australia, India and Hong Kong. It's currently being replicated
with local celebrities in Germany and the Netherlands,
"It is important for people to realize there can be enhanced possibilities for people of all ages and all walks of life,"
Langer emphasized. "My research has shown how using a different
word, offering a small choice or making a subtle change in
the physical environment can improve our health and well-being.
Small changes can make large differences, so we should open
ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility."
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