In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mindfulness

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Origins and History
  • Mindfulness Practice
  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Specific Psychiatric Disorders
  • Mindfulness and Neuroscience
  • Mindfulness and the Law
  • Mindfulness, Education (K–12), and the Workplace
  • Mindfulness, Social Interactions, and Relationships
  • Training Professionals in Mindfulness

Psychology Mindfulness
Amanda Ie, Christelle Ngnoumen, Ellen Langer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0036


Mindfulness is a quality of consciousness whose spiritual concept is most firmly rooted in Buddhist psychology, and whose Western concept, independent of any reference to Eastern contemplative traditions, was derived from a social psychological approach. The Western conception is in many ways similar to ancient Buddhist mindfulness with respect to its consequences, but quite different with respect to how it is achieved. Put most simply, for the Buddhist mindfulness is the result of meditative practice, while for the Western practitioner it results from the process of drawing novel distinctions. A variety of discourses on mindfulness have resulted in a corresponding range of working definitions, but despite multiple working definitions, the various schools of thought all contribute to an elucidation of the concept of mindfulness and how it can be most efficiently applied in various fields and settings, such as psychiatry, medicine, neuroscience, education, interpersonal relationships, health centers, and workplaces, as well as courts and prisons. A growing list of program centers and institutes conduct regular courses and workshops in the training of mindfulness practices as well as the training of professionals in mindfulness, all of which testifies to the burgeoning interest in and practice of mindfulness.

General Overviews

Langer, et al. 1978 was the first empirical paper on mindlessness and mindfulness in the West. Her research had initially focused on mindlessness and its prevalence in daily life, after which she began to explore the other side of the coin—mindfulness—and its potential benefits for diverse areas such as aging, health, creativity, and the workplace. Langer’s work on mindfulness has been conducted almost entirely within the Western scientific perspective without any reference to Eastern spiritual thought and practice, despite certain similarities with respect to its consequences. For an extended discussion on mindlessness/mindfulness theory, refer to Langer 1989. The Eastern concept of mindfulness (see Rao, et al. 2008 for discussions of Buddhist psychology, the original source of the Eastern approach to mindfulness) has undergone several transformations after its introduction into Western culture and contemporary psychology. Thanissaro 2007 enumerates an array of Western definitions of mindfulness and makes clear how they may not be exactly aligned with the original intent of the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. For an exceptionally lucid account of Pali terms (“mindfulness” was originally translated from the Pali term sati) and how they relate to mindfulness practice, refer to Gunaratana 1996. Brown, et al. 2007 examines the role of mindfulness in mental and physical health, behavioral regulation, and interpersonal relationships and suggests mechanisms by which mindfulness exerts its effects. Germer 2005’s introductory chapter emphasizes the role of mindfulness in therapeutic contexts, provides a brief history of mindfulness in psychotherapy, and discusses the relation between mindfulness and behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychotherapy, brain science, ethics, spirituality, health psychology, and positive psychology. Mindfulness is touted to be the single scholarly source presenting empirical and theoretical articles dedicated to mindfulness theory and multidisciplinary research.

  • Brown, Kirk W., Richard M. Ryan, and J. David Creswell. 2007. Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry 18:211–237.

    DOI: 10.1080/10478400701598298

    An overview of the characteristics of mindfulness as derived from Buddhist psychology and contemporary research psychology. Compares mindfulness theory with other theories of attention and awareness. Examines the role of mindfulness in mental and physical health, behavioral regulation, and interpersonal relationships and suggests mechanisms by which mindfulness exerts its effects and proposes directions for theoretical development and empirical research.

  • Germer, Christopher K. 2005. Mindfulness: What is it? What does it matter? In Mindfulness and psychotherapy. Edited by Christopher K. Germer, Ronald D. Siegel, and Paul R. Fulton, 3–27. New York: Guilford.

    Provides a brief history of mindfulness in psychotherapy. Describes how mindfulness may be defined within the therapeutic context, the levels and forms of mindfulness practice, and the contextualist worldview of mindfulness. Discusses the emergence of a mindfulness-oriented model of psychotherapy and the relation between mindfulness and behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychotherapy, brain science, ethics, spirituality, health psychology, and positive psychology.

  • Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. 1996. Mindfulness in plain English. Updated and expanded edition. Somerville, MA: Wisdom.

    Primarily intended to be an introductory text on the practice of Vipassana meditation, this book also provides a lucid explanation of mindfulness and contrasts mindfulness with concentration. Also available online.

  • Langer, Ellen J. 1989. Minding matters: The consequences of mindlessness-mindfulness. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 22:137–173.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60307-X

    Thorough theoretical exposition on the mindful and mindless modes of being. Discusses negative consequences of mindlessness (e.g., for physical health and human performance) and how they can be prevented. Distinguishes mindlessness from other phenomena such as set, expectation, labels, roles, functional fixedness, and automaticity. Clarifies misconceptions about the advantages of mindlessness and the disadvantages of mindfulness. Argues that mindful social psychological interventions may help extend human potential far beyond currently accepted limits.

  • Langer, Ellen J., Arthur Blank, and Benzion Chanowitz. 1978. The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of “placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36:635–642.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.36.6.635

    Authors conducted three field experiments to demonstrate that complex social behavior that appears to be enacted mindfully may instead be performed mindlessly. For instance, the majority of people about to use a copying machine were willing to let another use it first if the person had simply said, “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” Results have significant implications for social psychological theories that assume humans are rational information processors.

  • Mindfulness.

    Publishes peer-reviewed papers that present the most current research on mindfulness. Topics include the nature and foundation of mindfulness, mechanisms of action, cross-cultural research, reliability and validity of assessment, prevention and treatment for medical conditions and psychiatric disorders, consultation, training of professionals and non-professionals, and collaboration.

  • Rao, K. Ramakrishna, Anand C. Paranjpe, and Ajit K. Dalal. 2008. Handbook of Indian psychology. New Delhi: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Explores the concepts, methods, and models of Indian psychology. Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 8, in particular, discuss the foundations and perspectives of early Buddhist psychology and provide a Western interpretation of Buddhist psychology.

  • Thanissaro, Bhikkhu. 2007. Mindfulness defined.

    Discusses the origins of the word “mindfulness,” with an emphasis on its Pali roots. The author goes through an array of Western definitions of mindfulness and notes that these definitions run counter to the original intent of the Theravada tradition from which he comes.

  • Thera, Nyanasatta, trans. The foundations of mindfulness: Satipatthana Sutta. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993.

    The Satipatthana Sutta is one of the Buddha’s most important and popular discourses on the four foundations of mindfulness: the contemplation of the body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects. It is concerned with meditation with a particular emphasis on the development of insight. Available online.

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