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Can we measure mindfulness?


Review of current research articles
Can we measure mindfulness?

Written by David Arthur, April 2013

At the alphaeight institute we are conducting studies using the latest in electroencephalograph (EEG) technology to view ‘real-time’ alpha brain waves. This is used to provide evidence that our programmes actually help people develop mindful states and gives feedback to our clients in our training programmes, which propose that when in a mindful state an individual is more creative and better at problem solving, as well as able to develop positive qualities of awareness, insight and compassion.

Having this equipment is an asset but when very large numbers of people are involved in training or when using this equipment is not feasible then how else can we measure ‘mindfulness’ or a person’s ability to move into a relaxed, alpha brain state? The answer is the self-report, or questionnaire which is a common tool of the behavioural scientist, and in the case of mindfulness several have been developed to measure the concept. One in particular stands out and its development is reported in a recent study (Baer, 2006).

This article provides a good example of psychometric analysis (using statistics to demonstrate validity and reliability of a self-report instrument), in which the authors successfully combine the items from five previous validated questionnaires and test their ability to measure mindfulness. The end product is an instrument with 39 items which they call the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). The five facets (or subscales) of the mindfulness construct they named: ‘describe’ eg ‘I am good at finding words to describe my feelings’; ‘actaware’ eg ‘I find it difficult to stay focussed on what’s happening in the present’; ‘nonjudge’ eg ‘I criticise myself for having irrational or inappropriate emotions’; ‘nonreact’ eg ‘I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them’; and ‘observe’ eg ‘when I am walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body moving’.

The authors conclude that the FFMQ is valid and reliable instrument which shows promise as a tool to help in the measurement of mindfulness in various samples for the purposes of measuring change in mindful related behaviour projects such as teaching MBSR, or meditation, as well as clinical applications. The instrument does seem to offer promise as a test for showing clients the features of mindfulness and helping develop these characteristics. In the absence of neurobiofeedback EEG equipment the FFMQ presents as a useful tool for training and research.

The research team at the Alphaeight Institute are presently conducting a study which aims to determine if there is a significant correlation between EEG measures of alpha mind states and the score for the FFMQ. We are also examining if the FFMQ can be used in multi-cultural samples such as in HK, and in more homogenous samples in mainland China. This will add further evidence for the use of the pen and paper FFMQ in future research and training.

Baer, R., Smith, G., Hopkins, J., Krietmeyer, J. & Toney, L. (2006) Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1): 27-45.

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