Rumination – repetitive, negative thinking about the past – is a big factor in sustaining depression, and is associated with a circuit in the brain called the default mode network. In theory, mindfulness meditation should directly target this process because people are training themselves to notice when they become lost in thought, and return their attention to the present moment. And in fact, that is what a number of studies, looking at both behavior and brain activity, seem to show.
In other areas, we still have much to learn, says Wielgosz. For example, mindfulness meditation emphasizes attention training, so we might expect it to be helpful for conditions such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, only a handful of studies have been been conducted – too few to draw any firm conclusions, researchers say.
For some other conditions, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, science is at an even earlier stage. Researchers are still exploring which aspects of these conditions, if any, might be usefully treated by mindfulness meditation, and what adaptations might be needed for the interventions.
The team’s review was based on a broad survey of the latest research that brought together numerous findings from different areas of mental health. These included a number of meta-analyses, which in turn summarize the effects found in individual trials and experiments.