New York Times presents study investigating the effects of mindfulness on physical health without sensationalizing
Kim Tingley writes for the New York Times Magazine about a study conducted by researchers at the Mindfulness Center at the Brown University School of Public Health. The study, published in the science journal, Plos One, explores the effects of a mindfulness-based program on high blood-pressure. It is thought that the lack of consistency in mindfulness treatments prevents uniformity in study results and the establishment of mindfulness practices as a reliable health treatment. Tingley reports that the Brown University study tailored their mindfulness-based program to address specific behaviours associated with high blood-pressure. Tingley explains the difficulties involved with adapting a scientific study to a psychological practice, such as mindfulness, and the uncertainty the conclusions still hold. The article accurately describes the aim of the study conducted, as well as the evaluation techniques used for the 43 study participants including emotion questionnaires and attention-span tests. Notable improvements were seen in the blood pressure of study participants after a year, a promising result in support of mindfulness practices evolving to prescriptible medical treatments.
Tingley successfully laid out the knowns and unknowns of the subject and study, and possible improvements that the researchers are aiming to implement, such as increasing diversity in their study group. She is neutral in her reporting, avoiding inclusion of her personal opinion and avoiding the use of fear mongering and sensationalist language. While Tingley provides a clear and concise description of the study, the article fails to consult outside sources on the topic, leaving the claims unsupported. The article could have been improved with the inclusion of outside sources, in opposition to provide comparison on the topic or in agreeance to give the claims of the study and of Tingley’s reporting more validity and reliability. Tingley’s contact information and biography is lacking from the site, preventing immediate contact following reading; however, there is a clear link provided to the original research article in Plos One made available for readers’ further inquiry.
Published in January 2020 in the New York Times Magazine, Kim Tingley effectively reports recent findings on the effects of mindfulness and its potential for reducing blood pressure. In this study, forty-eight participants underwent a year-long Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure (MB-BP) reduction program, learning mindfulness skills such as meditation, yoga, and other stress reduction strategies to promote behaviour modification and lifestyle changes to reduce hypertension risk.
In essence, Tingley does a great job in summarizing the research and explaining its findings. One major aspect that positively contributes to Tingley’s review is her explanation on the reasons why the results may only mean correlation, and not causation. While she doesn’t explicitly write the words “causation” and “correlation” in the review, her comparison between conventional (pharmacological-based) treatments and mindfulness-based treatments clearly differentiates how the former takes advantage of a placebo/control group. This explanation supports her claim that it’s “impossible to be certain whether the training itself caused the observed changes”. Furthermore, Tingley makes great use of examples such as, “It could be that simply meeting in a group for two hours a week (or 10 minutes a week, for that matter) improves health” to further clarify why causation cannot be inferred and how correlation may be possible.
One aspect of the article that can be improved is its use of sources; the only source used is in this review was the original research article. While this ensures that the researchers’ takeaway messages are effectively conveyed, other research findings related to the topic are omitted and the reader must independently search for external opinion and validation.
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