Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

New research from Emma Osborne, Research Assistant at the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders (CREDO) at the University of Oxford (and PhD Candidate at the University of Bath), and Dr Melissa Atkinson, University of Bath, investigated two ways in which mindfulness might improve body satisfaction and mood.

Four hands of business people link gears from a puzzle against sunlit background

Mindfulness involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, in the moment, and without judgement. Previous research has shown mindfulness can help reduce distressing experiences, including negative emotions and feelings of dissatisfaction about our bodies. However, little is known about how mindfulness may have this effect.

This new research, Effects of Decentering and Non-judgement on Body Dissatisfaction and Negative Affect Among Young Adult Women, is published in Mindfulness.

The research first focused on the "paying attention" of mindfulness. Attending to our thoughts and feelings encourages us to take a step back and view them as separate from ourselves. The researchers examined whether this distancing, or "decentering" may help reduce the impact of negative thoughts and feelings, including those related to our bodies.

The second focus was on the "non-judgement" of mindfulness. Taking a non-judgemental stance towards our thoughts and feelings may in turn encourage us to develop a more accepting and noncritical view of ourselves and our bodies. The researchers compared the effects of these two parts of mindfulness – decentering and non-judgement – on women's feelings after looking at pictures of thin female models idealised in traditional and social media.

The researchers also included a control group and asked some participants to take a short break to rest. This allowed the researchers to see if either of these two parts of mindfulness practice were more helpful than no mindfulness practice.

The results showed that both the decentering and non-judgement groups experienced significant improvements in body satisfaction and mood. Unexpectedly, however, the group taking a short break to rest also experienced similar improvements.

Emma Osborne, study author, CREDO, Department of Psychiatry, said:


'A single, brief session of mindfulness did seem to have a positive effect on body dissatisfaction and mood. However, it did not seem to be anymore effective than a single session of resting. This means it is hard for us to know how, specifically, mindfulness works to improve body image and mood. It is possible that in this study, taking a moment to withdraw from looking at the media images – whether by decentering, practising non-judgement, or resting – was enough to have a short-term positive effect on mood, or provide a distraction from concerns about one's body.

'We only looked at the effects of mindfulness in the short term. It might be that, after regular practice over a longer period of time, mindfulness has a more powerful and specific effect on body satisfaction. It would be helpful now to examine how mindfulness works in the long term. If we can better understand how mindfulness works, we can improve mindfulness-based interventions by focusing on the parts of mindfulness that have the biggest effect when helping people overcome distress.'

Similar stories

Oxford researchers part of major UK initiative to understand chronic pain

Oxford pain researchers are playing a major role in a new multi-million pound research programme launched by a consortium of funders, including UKRI, Versus Arthritis, Eli Lilly and the Medical Research Foundation.

Unique study of vascular disease reaches 20th anniversary

The only project of its kind anywhere that studies patients with all types of acute vascular events - including strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms - in order to develop better diagnostic tests and treatments celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

DPAG launches “Body, Brain, Behavior: Three Views and a Conversation” in Oxford

The Oxford Book Launch 'Body Brain Behavior - The Need For Conversations' brought together three world leading scientist authors, Professor Zoltán Molnár and Yale Professors Tamas Horvath and Joy Hirsch, with Oxford's neuroscience community on Thursday 7 April 2022.

Little understood brain region linked to how we perceive pain

A new review paper, published in the journal Brain, has shown that a poorly understood region of the brain called the claustrum may play an important role in how we experience pain.