Procedure: We assessed the effects of a brief (5.5 min) audio-directed mindfulness meditation (focused-attention) on patterns of parasympathetic activity and mood across a sequence of tasks. Parents (N = 67) were randomly assigned to listen to either an educational podcast or a meditation and then asked to verbally guide his or her 4.5- to 6.5-year-old child through a series of increasingly difficult puzzles to earn a prize. The challenging game and time limit created a modest stressor for the dyad.
Measures: Parent respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was measured in continuous 30-second intervals and averaged across each task. Four times throughout the protocol, parents reported their current mood using a brief mood description map separated into global positive and negative scores. Parents also reported their prior contemplative experience (yes/no).
Results: Repeated measures analyses of variance yielded significant main effects of condition on parent RSA, F(3, 183) = 7.06, p < 0.001, positive mood, F(3, 183) = 3.91, p < 0.01, and negative mood, F(3, 183) = 3.43, p < 0.05, across time. The meditation increased positive mood and decreased negative mood over time. Prior contemplative experience did not moderate these effects on mood, F(4, 240) = .26, ns. Follow-up analyses revealed significant effects for participants with prior experience, F(4, 96) = 2.37, p < 0.05, and slightly stronger effects for those without experience, F(4, 144) = 3.66, p < 0.01. Exploratory analyses comparing mothers and fathers suggested comparable results on RSA but differential effects on positive and negative mood.
Conclusions: Brief mindfulness practices may support parent self-regulation before and during a difficult parent-child interaction. Effects indicate a meditation may have stronger effects for parents without prior contemplative experience and suggest these may differ for mothers and fathers. Training parents in mindfulness techniques is growing in popularity within prevention science; results from micro-trials similar to the present study may inform strategies to influence parent self-regulation, parenting practices, and positive adaptation in parent-child interactions.