Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Triggers a Long-Term Shift Toward More Positive Appraisals of Emotional Ambiguity

Nicholas R. Harp, Jonathan B. Freeman, Maital Neta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Reducing negative impacts of stress, for example through mindfulness training, benefits physical and psychological well-being and is becoming ever more crucial owing to large-scale societal uncertainties (e.g., COVID-19). Whereas extensive research has focused on mindfulness-related reductions in selfreported negativity, essentially no research has targeted task-based behavioral outcomes throughout long-term mindfulness trainings. Responses to emotionally ambiguous signals (e.g., surprised expressions), which might be appraised as either positive or negative, provide a nuanced assessment of one’s emotional bias across diverse contexts, offering unique leverage for assessing the effects of mindfulness. Here, we compared the effects of short and long-term training via Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on ratings of faces with a relatively clear (angry, happy) and ambiguous (surprised) valence. Ratings became more positive for ambiguity from the start (Week 1) to end of training (Week 8; p <.001), but there were no short-term effects (from a single class session). This shift toward positivity continued through an additional 8-week follow-up (Week 16; p <.001). Notably, posttraining valence bias (Week 8) was uniquely predicted by the nonreactivity facet of mindfulness (p =.01). Together, mindfulness promotes a relatively long-lasting shift toward positivity bias, which is uniquely supported by reduced emotional reactivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2160-2172
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2022


  • Emotional ambiguity
  • Mindfulness
  • Nonreactivity
  • Stress
  • Valence bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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