Presence and personality: A factoral exploration of the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and personality
Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist contemplative practice and is fundamentally a state of consciousness defined as being attentive to and accepting of what is taking place in the present moment. Research coverage and popular interest in Mindfulness has grown dramatically over the past decade as numerous studies have suggested a variety of positive psychological, neuropsychological and physiological benefits associated with its cultivation, typically via meditation. More recently, however, the onset of significant psychological problems in some meditators has been reported.
In light of this emerging narrative suggesting Mindfulness meditation may not be beneficial to all who engage in it, there is a pressing need for psychological research to undertake critical inquiry in this area. One potential explanation for the negative experiences of some meditators may lie in the area of individual personality differences. Research in this area remains relatively limited, particularly at facet level, as previous studies have tended to limit consideration to the ‘Big Five’ factors of personality and a global measure of dispositional Mindfulness. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to explore the relationship between the discrete facets of personality and dispositional Mindfulness. It is hoped that the results of this study may shed light on why Mindfulness meditation may not be beneficial for everyone or, at least, should be more individually tailored in its application.
The study employed a factoral, quantitative design. Specifically, 229 participants were recruited from the University of the West of England’s psychology students ‘participant pool’ and via snowball sampling. Participants completed two online measures: the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) which identified dispositional Mindfulness domains of Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness, Non-Judging of Inner Experience, and Non-Reactivity to Inner Experience; and the NEO-PI-R Personality Questionnaire which measured the ‘Big Five’ factors of personality (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness) and their 30 associated facets. Participant data was analysed via factor analysis utilising scores across all 35 variables; that is, the 5 dispositional Mindfulness domains plus the 30 personality facets.
Analysis of the combined 35 facet-level scores resulted in the emergence of a 5-factor model. Moreover, these 5 ‘new’ factors aligned closely with the ‘Big Five’ personality factors; hence, dispositional Mindfulness domains were statistically indistinct from factors of personality. Specifically, 3 out of the 5 FFMQ dispositional Mindfulness domains (namely, Non-Judging of Inner Experience, Non-Reactivity to Inner Experience, and Acting with Awareness) loaded inversely on to the ‘Neuroticism’ factor identified from factoral analysis. Additionally, 2 FFMQ domains (Acting with Awareness and Describing) loaded positively on to ‘Conscientiousness’, while 1 FFMQ domain (Observe) loaded positively on to ‘Openness’. These results align with previous studies conducted at factor level and deepen understanding of the facet-level relationships.
The results of this study may suggest that people scoring highly on the Neuroticism personality factor could find Mindfulness meditation practice most challenging. Such individuals tend to be anxious, self-conscious, moody, insecure, and more susceptible to stress and psychological distress. They may also have learned to cope psychologically via the development of certain defence mechanisms, such as the suppression and avoidance of difficult thoughts and feelings. A psychologically defended, avoidant individual may therefore find it distressing to bring awareness and attention to their anxiety, anger, low mood, self-consciousness, impulsivity or vulnerability during meditation. Paradoxically, such people have, typically, represented a key ‘target audience’ for Mindfulness-based clinical interventions.
Perhaps, rather than clinicians commonly regarding Mindfulness interventions as generic and suitable for all, the results suggest that tailoring them more to the individual may maximise benefit and, more importantly, negate the likelihood of harmful consequences. For example, accentuating self-compassion, perhaps via the utilisation of specific compassionate imagery exercises and ‘Loving Kindness’ meditations, or setting the work in the context of a richer Compassion Focused Therapy approach, could be beneficial for a heavily defended, highly self-critical client scoring high on Neuroticism as measured by an appropriate psychometric instrument. Merely bringing intensive awareness to painful material and in doing so encouraging abandonment of what may be a key defence, such as avoidance, seems wholly inadequate and potentially dangerous without the deeper work of fostering self-compassion.
It would seem much could potentially also be gained by revisiting the Buddhist tradition from which secular Mindfulness meditation has been extracted. Within Buddhism, it is widely accepted that meditators may experience psychological difficulty as part of their developmental journey towards greater personal insight. Re-setting the work of individual transformation via meditation within the broader context of Buddhism, which works directly with and helps make sense of distressing phenomena as they arise, offers the potential to bring greater understanding, compassion and support to Mindfulness meditation practitioners encountering psychological difficulties.
Mather, P. (2019). Presence and personality: A factoral exploration of the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and personality. (Thesis). University of the West of England
|Publication Date||May 8, 2019|
|Keywords||mindfulness, personality, meditation|
Phillip Mather Thesis FINAL March 2019.pdf