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A global study analyzing more than 280,000 digital meditation sessions has found that the practice leads to significant improvements in mood, regardless of the length of a session.
The University of Adelaide–led study, which used deidentified data provided by US-based meditation app Insight Timer, found that consistent practice had a greater influence on the effectiveness of meditation for a practitioner.
A lot of people feel like they need to meditate every day for long periods of time to realise any benefit, and then become disheartened when they find this unsustainable. We found that practice consistency was the most important predictor of positive outcome change. Specifically, keeping up a regular practice but taking occasional rest days when required. [Dr Micah Cearns, data scientist, Insight Timer; research fellow, Discipline of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide]
As meditators gained experience, longer sessions led to increased mood improvements.
We can think of the relationship between mood benefits and length of a session as one that is graded and changes as users become more experienced through completing more sessions. [Dr Micah Cearns]
Both interoceptive (internally focused) and exteroceptive (externally focused) sessions led to improvements; however, meditators who practiced a mix of both were most likely to maintain a meditation practice in the long term.
There were more than 10,500 participants from 103 countries in the study. The data were collected with informed consent over a 14-month period, and Insight Timer users’ mood, mood stability, and recovery time from a drop in mood were measured.
Users were prompted in-app to complete a mood check-in each time they performed a digital meditation—a data collection method known as ecological momentary assessment.
This technique affords data collection with close proximity to day-to-day events and minimises the chances of recall biases that can be prevalent in traditional assessment techniques. It also maximises the real-world validity of the findings. [Dr Micah Cearns]
Working with an industry partner like Insight Timer significantly benefitted the scale of this study.
Many tech companies generate massive amounts of data related to health and wellbeing within the natural context of how consumers complete their everyday self-care routines. This is really where the university/tech relationship thrives – researchers can answer questions related to health, tech companies receive insights into their products, while the public benefits from new knowledge going into the public domain. [Dr Micah Cearns]
The global meditation market is a multibillion-dollar industry, with app stores awash with platforms offering guided meditations and other well-being activities.
While the data collected from this study were sourced from just 1 app, Dr Cearns said that the findings are likely applicable to other apps with a similarly broad range of meditation types.
Prof Scott Clark (coauthor; associate professor and head of the Discipline of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide) agrees: “The study provides definitive evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness apps and defines the best way to use them.”
The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Dr Micah Cearns, PhD, Research Fellow, Discipline of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 0415 308 058, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Stanley, Media Officer, The University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)422 406 351. Email: email@example.com
Australian University Provider Number PRV12105 | CRICOS Provider Number 00123M
Cearns M, Clark SR. The Effects of Dose, Practice Habits, and Objects of Focus on Digital Meditation Effectiveness and Adherence: Longitudinal Study of 280,000 Digital Meditation Sessions Across 103 Countries. J Med Internet Res 2023.
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