The efficacy of a brief app-based mindfulness intervention on psychosocial outcomes in healthy adults: A pilot randomised controlled trial

PLoS One. 2018 Dec 31;13(12):e0209482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209482. eCollection 2018.


Background: Previous evidence suggests that mindfulness training may improve aspects of psychosocial well-being. Whilst mindfulness is traditionally taught in person, consumers are increasingly turning to mindfulness-based smartphone apps as an alternative delivery medium for training. Despite this growing trend, few studies have explored whether mindfulness delivered via a smartphone app can enhance psychosocial well-being within the general public.

Methods: The present pilot randomised controlled trial compared the impact of engaging with the self-guided mindfulness meditation (MM) app 'Headspace' (n = 38) for a period of 10 or 30 days, to a wait-list (WL) control (n = 36), using a cohort of adults from the general population. The Satisfaction with Life Scale, Perceived Stress Scale, and Wagnild Resilience Scale were administered online at baseline and after 10 and 30 days of the intervention.

Results: Twelve participants (MM n = 9, WL n = 3) were lost to follow-up for unknown reasons. Relative to the WL control, the MM app positively impacted self-reported satisfaction with life, stress, and resilience at day 10, with further improvements emerging at day 30 (Cohen's d = 0.57, 1.42, 0.63 respectively). The rate of improvement was largest at the 10-day assessment point, dropping moderately by day 30. Participants that rated the MM app as easy to engage with experienced the largest self-reported benefits. Moreover, the MM app was able to protect against an unexpected increase in perceived stress that emerged in the control group.

Conclusions: This pilot randomised controlled trial shows that self-reported improvements in psychosocial outcomes can be achieved at low cost through short-term engagement with a mindfulness-based smartphone app, and should be followed up with more substantive studies.

Trial registration: ISRCTN ISRCTN34618894.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Phone
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Meditation / psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness
  • Mobile Applications
  • Patient Care / methods*
  • Patient Care / psychology
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work, as the study formed part of an MSc thesis submitted by LC and supervised by CC. Use of the Headspace app was made freely available by Headspace Inc., who also provided support in the form of salaries for author ME, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of the authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.