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Goldberg, colleagues call attention to need for more rigorous mindfulness-based research

November 15, 2017

A recent article co-authored by UW-Madison alumnus Simon Goldberg is putting the spotlight on the need for more rigorous research into mindfulness-based interventions.

The paper is titled, “Is mindfulness research methodology improving over time? A systematic review,” and it appeared in the open-access journal PLOS One.

Goldberg, who received his Ph.D. from the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology in August, is the lead author on the report. He is currently completing his postdoctoral fellowship in Health Services Research & Development at the Seattle VA and the University of Washington.

Simon Goldberg
The report notes that in recent decades there has been an explosion in mindfulness-based interventions and research on these practices. Much of this work started with mindfulness-based stress reduction based on Buddhist contemplative practices and expanded to mindfulness-based efforts to target various psychiatric and medical conditions. In general, there is evidence that these various interventions show positive results.

Nonetheless, the authors explain that “concerns have continually been raised regarding the methodological quality of this body of research.”

The article adds: “Despite an exponential growth in research on mindfulness-based interventions, the body of scientific evidence supporting these treatments has been criticized for being of poor methodological quality.”

Goldberg and his colleagues examined six methodological features that have been recommended in criticisms of mindfulness research: active control conditions; larger sample sizes; longer follow-up assessment; treatment fidelity assessment; reporting of instructor training; and reporting of intent to treat samples.

The team reports that it examined 142 studies published between 2000 and 2016, and found that “there was no evidence for increases in any study quality indicator, although changes were generally in the direction of improved quality.”

The paper concludes by noting that “the 16 years of mindfulness research reviewed here provided modest evidence that the quality of research is improving over time. There may be various explanations for this (e.g., an increasing number of novel mindfulness-based interventions being first tested in less rigorous designs; the undue influence of early, high-quality studies). However, it is our hope that demonstrating this fact empirically will encourage future researchers to work towards the recommendations here and ultimately towards a clearer and scientifically-informed understanding of the potential and limitations of these treatments.”

While Goldberg hopes researchers will implement methods to improve research quality, he also points out that “there are still many high-quality studies that are being published that can give us a clearer sense of the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions.”