Research by Dr. Keng Shian-Ling and Dr. Eddie Tong presents a nuanced view of how mindfulness positively shapes the patterns of emotional experiences in our daily life.
Mindfulness – present-centered and non-judgmental awareness – has been closely associated with affective well-being. For instance, research has found that trait mindfulness predicts lower average levels of day-to-day negative affect.
Yet, our affective experiences within each day are often more dynamic with fluctuations in intensity and valence. These patterns of emotional variations in daily life are known as affect dynamics.
A recent study by Dr. Keng Shian-Ling (pictured, left) and Dr. Eddie Tong (pictured, right) from the Department of Psychology in NUS has revealed that trait mindfulness not only predicts average levels of daily affect, but also more fine-grained affect dynamics.
Based on an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) approach, 390 NUS undergraduates reported their emotions and coping styles up to 19 times per day over two days using handheld palm computers.
Higher trait mindfulness was found to be associated with lower variability and instability of negative affect. Individuals with high trait mindfulness also experienced lower levels of negative affect inertia, in that they were less likely to dwell on negative emotions within a day. In addition, such individuals tended to switch from feeling negatively to more positively later in the day, as compared to their peers who had lower trait mindfulness.
The researchers further established that the relationship between trait mindfulness and affect dynamics was mediated by lower maladaptive coping, but not greater adaptive coping. Specifically, mindful individuals were less likely to respond to daily stressors through maladaptive coping styles such as distraction, fantasizing, self-blame, and venting. This may partially explain why such individuals were also less likely to linger on negative emotions throughout the day.
In going beyond the predominant focus on affect averages in current literature to examine affect dynamics, this study offers a more holistic and nuanced perspective on the ways in which mindfulness impacts emotional health.
This study was among the first collaborative projects between Dr. Keng and Dr. Tong. Both researchers have enjoyed the collaboration as they share and synthesize expertise from research on mindfulness and emotion respectively. The results from this study, together with other papers on affect dynamics in the literature, show that emotion research needs to go beyond examining averages to study how emotions fluctuate over time. Dr. Keng and Dr. Tong are currently working on, among other topics, a follow-up study on whether systematic training in mindfulness (i.e., mindfulness-based interventions) might also affect the temporal dynamics of emotion.
Keng, S.-L., & Tong, E. M. W. (2016). Riding the tide of emotions with mindfulness: Mindfulness, affect dynamics, and the mediating role of coping. Emotion, 16, 706-718. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000165