Research Beat: UConn Study examines role of meditation in stress reduction

Rebecca Acabchuk practicing meditation and demonstrating the MUSE headband device. Photo provided by Rebecca Acabchuk.

A UConn study on meditation is being conducted by Blair Johnson, adjunct Professor of Psychological Sciences, and Rebecca Acabchuk, distinguished professor of health psychology, after seeing a high demand for meditation by students on campus, Acabchuk said.

“During lectures, I actually practiced meditation with my students, where I tell my students to anchor their attention on something specific like a mantra or some music,” Acabchuk said.

Acabchuk said she wanted to do this study because she herself teaches and participates in meditation and also wanted to promote meditation and stress relieving techniques among the UConn students.

[This study was a perfect way to] “bring my interest into my research,” Acabchuk said.  

The purpose of the team’s study is to determine what tools best assist university students develop a personal meditation practice to self-manage stress, Acabchuk said. This study randomly assigns its participants to one of two groups: The control group, which will be able to practice meditation mindfulness on their own such as breathing and using an app called 10%Happier Acabchuk said, and the experimental group.  

The experimental group will also be given the opportunity to practice meditation techniques on their own (breathe or use the app) but also will practice meditate EEG-neurofeedback-assisted meditation using the MUSE device, Acabchuk said.

Acabchuk said, “The MUSE device allows the participants to be curious.”

The research team takes saliva samples as a biomarker of stress. Acabchuk said . They gauge cortisol levels and C-reactive proteins (CRP), Acabchuk said. After the four-week long study ends, another saliva sample is taken to check for any changes. Acabchuk and her team are expecting the levels to drop with the use of effective, consistent ten minutes of meditation after waking in the morning and at night, Acabchuk said. Between the two groups, the anxiety, mental activity, physical health, will be measured Acabchuk said.

This meditation study is the first ever to be conducted at UConn using neurofeedback devices, Acabchuk said.

“Through this study, we hope to find and offer alternative ways that student can practice different ways of coping and managing with their stress whether that be through breathing or using an app,” Acabchuk said.

The study launched in spring 2017 with 50 participants, Acabchuk said. This year, Acabchuk and her team want to gather a more diverse population of another 100 participants within the UConn community.

Currently although Acabchuk and her team have a lot of participants signed up, many of them fall into the white female category, Acabchuk said. The researchers are currently trying to recruit more males for the study to get a more diverse and representative population of the UConn student body. Those who are interested in participating in this study, contact UConn.mindfulness.studies@gmail.com.

“This fall, the study starts next Wednesday and we are excited to be studying a larger and more diverse group,” said Acabchuk.


Shivani Padhi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at shivani.padhi@uconn.edu .