Positive Emotions, Meditation, Health Behavior Maintenance

  • Positive affect and behavior maintenance: With Barbara Fredrickson, we have developed a model that highlights the critical role that positive emotions play in helping us stick to our health behavior goals (e.g., exercising or meditating): the Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change.

    Figure: “The upward spiral theory of lifestyle change explains how positive affect can facilitate long-term adherence to positive health behaviours. The inner loop of this spiral model identifies nonconscious motives as a central mechanism of behavioural maintenance. Positive affect experienced during health behaviours increases incentive salience for cues associated with those behaviours, which in turn, implicitly guides attention and the everyday decisions to repeat those behaviours. The outer loop represents the evidence-backed claim, based on Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory, that positive affect builds a suite of endogenous resources, which may in turn amplify the positive affect experienced during positive health behaviours and strengthen the nonconscious motives.”

Main theoretical paper: Van Cappellen, P., Rice, E., Catalino, L., & Fredrickson, B. L. & (2018). Positive affective processes underlie positive health behavior change. Psychology and Health1, 77-97. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2017.1320798 (Special Issue on “Emotion, Health Decision-making, and Health Behaviour”) PDF

Fredrickson, B. L., Arizmendi, C., & Van Cappellen, P. (in press). Same-day, cross-day, and upward spiral relations between positive affect and positive health behaviours. Psychology and Health. PDF

Don, B., P., Van Cappellen, P.& Fredrickson, B. L. (in press). Understanding engagement in and affective experiences during physical activity: The role of meditation interventions. Psychosomatic Medicine. PDF

  • Increasing positive emotions associated with meditation:  Given the importance of experiencing positive emotions when meditating for the maintenance of this behavior, our other work has sought to 1) document the positive emotions associated with meditation and 2) understand and test ways to amplify this positive emotional response to meditation.
    • Loving-kindness, mindfulness, and informal meditation all increases positive emotions: Fredrickson, B. L., Boulton, A. J. , Firestine, A. M., Van Cappellen, P., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. M., Loundon Kim, S., Brantley, J., & Salzberg, S. (in press). Positive emotion correlates of meditation practice:  A comparison of mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation. Mindfulness. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0735-9Fredrickson, B. L., Arizmendi, C., Van Cappellen, P., Firestine, A. M., Brantley, M. M., Kim, S. L., Brantley, J., & Salzberg, S. (2019). Do contemplative moments matter? Effects of informal meditation on emotions and perceived social integration. Mindfulness, 10, 1915-1925.
    • Biological amplifier: Administration of oxytocin amplifies the positive emotions experienced while meditating: Van Cappellen, P., Way, B., Isgett, S. F., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2016). Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11, 1579-1587. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw078 Dataset and codebook on PDF
    • Psychological amplifier: A short intervention explaining the benefits of setting aside time for pleasant events (e.g., “People who devote time each day to activities that generate positive emotions [e.g. interest, amusement] fare the best”) as well as the dangers of willing oneself to feel positive emotions (e.g., “Research also shows that if you simply ‘will’ or ‘wish’ yourself to feel positive emotions, it can backfire, ironically making you feel worse”) led to increased enjoyment of loving-kindness meditation specifically. In addition, enjoyment of any kind of meditation predicted future engagement in meditation practice: Van Cappellen*, P., Catalino*, L., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2020). A new micro-intervention to increase the enjoyment and continued practice of meditation. Emotion, 20(8), 1332–1343. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000684 PDF
  • Applying the Upward Spiral Theory to religious behaviors:  Van Cappellen, P., Edwards, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (in press). Upward spirals of positive emotions and religious behaviors. Current Opinion in Psychology.
Figure: Upward Spiral Theory of Sustained Religious Practice
  • Positive emotions as one mechanism explaining the association between religious practice and health: