Panacea or Placebo? A Comparison of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Intervention and an Active Control Intervention on Neurogenic Inflammatory Response
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Mindfulness-based interventions have been effective at reducing symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders, a phenomenon proposed to be mediated by altered immune system function and inflammatory response. However, the majority of clinical trials and laboratory studies conducting mindfulness-based interventions test against poorly designed control groups. Therefore, to evaluate whether mindfulness uniquely reduces inflammatory responses above potential positive expectancy (i.e., placebo), the current study evaluated the effect of a brief mindfulness-based intervention on neurogenic inflammatory responses compared to a structurally equivalent active control intervention without mindfulness components, that too was called mindfulness, in healthy young adults (N = 30). Both groups participated in their respective 5-day interventions delivered online, and then were invited to laboratory testing. During the baseline inflammatory test, no difference in flare area or flare intensity was observed between groups (p’s > .05). After practicing their respective intervention in the laboratory, both groups demonstrated significant reductions in flare area (p = .023) and flare intensity (p = .005) during the second inflammatory test, however, with no group differences in rate of change. These preliminary results suggest that mindfulness may not uniquely reduce inflammatory responses when compared to an equivalently designed active control. Rather, these findings suggest that the expectation of improvement alone was responsible for the reduction in flare following the interventions. To further investigate the role of expectancy in mediating these effects, future studies will need to obtain baseline measures of flare before intervention training, and compare these two groups to a no treatment control condition.
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Rutherford, Madilynn DeLane (2018). Panacea or Placebo? A Comparison of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Intervention and an Active Control Intervention on Neurogenic Inflammatory Response. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from