new study offers evidence that music and nature sounds serve as
effective attentional targets for acquiring mindfulness attentional
skills. When compared to a mindfulness program that focused on the
breath, interventions using either music or nature sounds led to a
greater likelihood of generalizing acquired skills to everyday life. The
research was published in Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain.
involves the awareness and observation of the present moment and is
often practiced by focusing one’s attention on a specific object.
Modern-day mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) typically work off the
flow of the breath, while directing one’s attention to the present and
preventing mind-wandering. Studies suggest that these interventions are
largely effective, leading to mental health improvements and reduced
symptoms of psychopathology.
that MBIs have 15% attrition rates, researchers Leong-Min Loo and
colleagues set out to explore a way to improve MBI attendance. Reasoning
that focusing on internal stimuli like the breath may be particularly
challenging for some people, the researchers wanted to explore whether
focusing on external stimuli — specifically, music and nature sounds —
might be an effective alternative.
and team randomly assigned 79 young adults to attend one of three
different 8-week mindfulness training programs. The programs were
identical except that they each used a different attentional target —
either music, nature sounds, or the breath. The attentional targets were
used to practice a focus on the present, the switching of attention,
and an open acceptance of all experiences. Each intervention involved 8
one-hour group sessions led by a facilitator and included mindful
awareness activities and group discussions.
assess the effectiveness of each program in teaching mindfulness
attentional skills, all participants completed The Five Facet
Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) at every session. To assess the mental
health impact of the programs, participants completed a single measure
of anxiety, depression, and stress three times throughout the study.
Subjects also completed a post-intervention interview.
participants’ acquisition of mindfulness attentional skills did not
significantly differ between the three groups. The subject interviews
revealed that, overall, subjects “focused on the “here-and-now”,
re-oriented their attention upon detecting mind-wandering
(“focusing-refocusing”), [and] “labelled” and “let go” of their
experiences,” Loo and colleagues report. Measures of the subjects’
psychological functioning were also comparable among the three groups.
However, differences surfaced within the intervention groups. Notably, both the music and nature groups saw a
reduction in depressive and anxiety symptoms within their groups — but
the group that focused on the breath did not. This lack of effect runs
contrary to findings that show that mindfulness training that focuses on
the breath reduces psychopathology symptoms. Loo and colleagues discuss
that the lack of effect seen in their study could due to the lower
amount of practice that their interventions entailed, which may have
been insufficient to see such changes. Typical mindfulness-based
interventions emphasize daily at-home practice, which may be crucial for
seeing improvements in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
music and nature groups also experienced a higher turnout. More
impressively, subjects in these groups were the only ones to report an
intention to generalize the attentional skills they learned into daily
life. For example, in the post-intervention interviews, some of these
participants reported having learned to “let go” and “refocus attention”
during everyday experiences. They also uniquely referred to the
“impermanence” of their experiences — for example, by visualizing
“thoughts flowing along like a conveyor belt.”
and colleagues say the overall findings suggest that music and nature
sounds are suitable attentional targets for mindfulness practice that
appear to be as effective as a focus on the breath. The use of these
attentional targets also appears to assist learners in transferring
their newfound awareness to daily experiences in order to cope with life
changes. Future studies among larger, clinical samples are needed to
replicate the findings.
The study, “Exploring
Mindfulness Attentional Skills Acquisition, Psychological and
Physiological Functioning and Wellbeing: Using Mindful Breathing or
Mindful Listening in a Non-Clinical Sample”, was authored by Leong-Min Loo, Jon B. Prince, and Helen M. Correia.
(Photo credit: Stephen McCarthy/Collision)