Willoughby Britton '89 Researches Mindfulness

New research by psychologist Willoughby Britton '89 is featured in Brown University's 'Brown Medicine' magazine. Britton, who earned a PhD at Brown, says informing people about the risks of mindful meditation is a public health issue. According to Brown Medicine:

"Mindfulness meditation is a $4 billion industry in America. ... Meditation's gone mainstream, and it's showing up everywhere—from high-tech companies in Silicon Valley to the Marines to the cover of TIME.

"...numerous studies have shown that mindfulness—a secularized form of Buddhist-inspired meditation that stresses a nonjudgmental awareness of the present—may help reduce blood pressure, enhance immune function, and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. There are signs that it might even slow the effects of aging and increase one’s capacity for compassion.

'It’s similar to a body workout,' says Britton; 'you have to have stronger muscle groups to do certain kinds of actions. [Building] patience and kindness and compassion is no different from building any other kind of muscle.'"

But, the Brown Medicine article continues, "For Britton, it’s not enough to know that MBSR and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (or MBCT, which is used to prevent relapse of depression) work. She wants to know how they work. That’s the question driving Dismantling Mindfulness, her five-year, three-arm, NIH-funded study to determine how, exactly, mindfulness helps ease depression (her specialty) and anxiety.

'MBSR and MBCT are like drug cocktails. They have many different kinds of practices and components in them, they have very different goals and very different neurological correlates,' Britton says. 'It’s really hard to know what the active ingredient is. So basically what we’re doing is taking out one [practice]at a time and doing eight weeks of that and comparing that to the cocktail.'"

Read the complete article in the Winter 2015 edition.

    • Willoughby Britton '89 is featured in Brown University's 'Brown Medicine' magazine.