Contemplative practices rooted in Buddhism and the stress response: A mixed-method study

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Contemplative practices derived from Buddhist traditions, as well as their clinical applications (for example, programs developing "mindfulness"), are attracting a lot of media attention and are researched scientifically in various disciplines. Nowadays, those practices are present in different contexts: Buddhist groups, non-sectarian meditation centers, clinical setting. Stress reduction is one of the best known consequences of this type of contemplative practices and the derived interventions. The most important open questions in this line of research consist in (1) deciphering of the mechanisms that underline this relationship, and (2) understanding of the contextual influences in the application of these practices.

First of all, this multidisciplinary project aims to study the relationship between the practice of meditation and the stress response to social-evaluative threat in the population of experienced practitioners. By using physiological and psychological measurements and collecting phenomenological data in a controlled condition, the main goal is to explore the mechanisms between stress response and meditation with a particular emphasis on cognitive appraisal, affective states, and emotion regulation. Our second objective is to compare the effect of different interventions based on Buddhist meditation in the population without any experience of contemplative practices, to see if contextual changes influence the results of interventions (reduction of response to social stress and emotional regulation) and the construction of the experience by the meditators.

The project uses mixed methods: we employ several levels of data collection from psychophysiological assessments to phenomenological first-person approaches to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between contemplative practices and stress in different populations. It allows us to rigorously assess the physiological stress-related and affective changes, and at the same time to take into account the construction of the experience by the participants.