Emotion-related constructs engaged by mindfulness-based interventions: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Mindfulness (N Y). 2021 May;12(5):1041-1062. doi: 10.1007/s12671-020-01561-w. Epub 2020 Nov 26.


Objectives: Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been widely implemented to improve self-regulation behaviors, often by targeting emotion-related constructs to facilitate change. Yet the degree to which MBIs engage specific measures of emotion-related constructs has not been systematically examined.

Methods: Using advanced meta-analytic techniques, this review examines construct and measurement engagement in trials of adults that used standardized applications of the two most established MBIs: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), or modified variations of these interventions that met defined criteria.

Results: Seventy-two studies (N=7,378) were included (MBSR k=47, MBCT k = 21, Modified k=4). MBIs led to significant improvement in emotion-related processing overall, compared to inactive controls (d=0.58; k =36), and in all constructs assessed: depression (d=0.66; k=26), anxiety (d =0.63; k=19), combined mental health (d =0.75; k=7 ) and stress (d =0.44; k=11). Reactions to pain, mood states, emotion regulation, and biological measures lacked sufficient data for analysis. MBIs did not outperform active controls in any analyses. Measurement tool and population-type did not moderate results, but MBI-type did, in that MBCT showed stronger effects than MBSR, although these effects were driven by a small number of studies.

Conclusions: This review is the first to examine the full scope of emotion-related measures relevant to self-regulation, to determine which measures are most influenced by MBCT/MBSR. Compared to extant reviews, which typically focused on MBI outcomes, this work examined mechanistic processes based on measurement domains and tools. While effect sizes were similar among measurement tools, this review also includes a descriptive evaluation of measures and points of caution, providing guidance to MBI researchers and clinicians for selection of emotion-related measurement tools.

Keywords: affect regulation; emotion; measurement tools; mindfulness.