Neuropsychophysiological Response and Phenomenological Experience of a Mindfulness and Compassion Course
: A Mixed Methods Evaluation

  • Laura Allen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Understanding the neuropsychophysiological applications and the phenomenological experience is crucial to our understanding of the stages of change that take place during mindfulness interventions. This thesis investigates the neurophysiological and phenomenological experience of an 8 week or 3-4-day equivalent mindfulness and compassion course at pre, post and follow-up time points (six months).
To review similar mindfulness interventions a systematic literature review was performed to evaluate mindfulness-based and compassion-focused interventions using physiological measures of stress (heart rate and blood pressure). The review concluded that further research using physiological measures were required in mindfulness-based compassion interventions.
To answer the research question, four separate and singular studies comprising of neuropsychophysiological measures and qualitative diary entries were used within a mixed methods approach. In study One a quantitative design investigated physiological measures of heart rate, diastolic and systolic blood pressure at the start and the end of from an 8-week mindfulness and compassion course. It was hypothesised that following the course there would be a reduction in heart rate and both measures of blood pressure. Despite a reduction in mean scores no significant change was identified for any of the three physiological measures.
In a secondary part to Study One the physiological measures were expanded to examine predicted changes in brain activity. An electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to record frontal alpha wave asymmetry pre, post, and 6-months following an 8-week mindfulness and compassion course. It was hypothesised that following the course there would be increased activation in the left frontal hemisphere. A repeated measures ANOVA indicated a shift in frontal hemispheric activation from right to left hemisphere following an 8-week mindfulness and compassion course. Stronger left sided frontal activation was found at the six-month time point but no statistically significant change.
Study Two investigated the relationship between fears of compassion and perceived stress for participants following an 8-week mindfulness and compassion course. A multiple regression analysis identified relationships between three subscales of fears of compassion using all three subscales and stress. The results indicated that stress was predicted by fear of expressing kindness and compassion to oneself. Fears of responding to compassion from others was shown to strongly correlate to fears of expressing kindness and compassion to oneself, but no significance to stress and was subsequently identified as a potential suppressor variable.
Study Three implemented a qualitative study to encapsulate the lived experience of an 8-week or equivalent 3-4 day mindfulness and compassion course using diary entries to explore participant’s thoughts, feelings and emotions during the course. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to create themes to represent the experience of the participants. Twelve themes were identified in the analysis: expectations a person brings to mindfulness training; the social awkwardness of practising in a group; meditation for beginners is hard work; the importance of the teacher in making it okay to experience uncertainty; the importance of metaphors/stories in making sense of mindfulness concepts; compassion: important but challenging; shifting awareness of body, place and mind; epiphanies/turning points/game changers: when it just makes sense; noticing suffering in everyday life; responding differently to suffering in everyday life; knowing the self-better: in a non-judgemental way; simple class vs. cluttered life: practising in class is different to practising in everyday life.
The findings are discussed in relation to previous research alongside relevant theories in psychology, neuropsychology and physiology. Further discussions are included around the neurological applications, mechanisms of mindfulness and neurophenomenological approaches. Applications for practice of the mindfulness and compassion course are also explored including advisory notes for practitioners. Limitations of the studies were discussed alongside the clinical relevance of non-significant findings. The thesis concludes with recommendations for future research and the continued integration of mindfulness and neuropsychology to identify mechanisms of change within mindfulness courses.
Date of AwardOct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorLiz Sparkes (Supervisor), Luke Sage (Supervisor), Carol Percy (Supervisor) & Andy Turner (Supervisor)

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