Abstract ID: 4020

Primary Topic: Mind-body (including meditation and yoga)
Secondary Topic: State of the science/evidence base for integrative modalities
Tertiary Topic: Basic Science

Mindfulness Training Disrupts Classical Conditioning

Late Breaker: Yes


Mindfulness meditation is purported to de-automatize conditioned behavior.  Conditioned behavior is implicated in a host of clinical concerns, including depression, addiction, and suicidality. However, the effects of mindfulness on classically conditioned behavior has not been assessed in a controlled experiment. This study is the first to demonstrate that mindfulness meditation training can attenuate classically conditioned behavior.

Methods/Session Format

Forty-nine healthy participants were recruited for an attention training study. Participants were randomized into either a mindfulness (n=26) or active listening (n=27) condition. Study procedures took place over six, individually scheduled study sessions. The mindfulness condition received training in basic Shamatha skills and the active listening condition listened to selections from Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne. State mindfulness and affective state was measured after each training. Delay eyeblink conditioning was performed after the final training in the sixth, study session.


Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed a significant Condition x Time interaction for state mindfulness (F5,35=3.52, p=.011, η2=.34), indicating that mindfulness training increased state mindfulness (Fig.1). A one-way ANCOVA revealed a significant mean difference in first conditioned response (F1,46=6.12, p=.017, η2=.12), indicating that mindfulness training delayed the onset of conditioned responding (Fig.2). A repeated measures ANCOVA revealed a significant main effect of condition on conditioned response frequency, (F1,46=16.95, p<.001, η2=.27), indicating that mindfulness training attenuated conditioned responding (Fig.3). Finally, path analysis revealed experimental condition had a significant indirect effect on conditioned response frequency via change in state mindfulness (Fig.4).


Findings from this study indicate that mindfulness training inhibits the acquisition of conditioned behaviors and the frequency with which conditioned behaviors are expressed. Thus mindfulness training may serve to inoculate against the development of maladaptive habits, allowing individuals to behave non-reactively and with greater intentionality when responding to present moment circumstances.