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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring the mental health benefits of a brief app-based loving-kindness meditation practice : a randomized control trial Bakker, Anna Myfanwy Ross


Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have become widely applied to improve mental health in both clinical and non-clinical populations. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has more recently received attention in the Western psychological and health literature (e.g., Galante et al., 2014). While LKM is sometimes included in evidence-based MBIs, recent research suggests that specific LKM interventions can have meaningful mental health benefits (Hofmann et al., 2015). There has been a surge of interest in using smartphone-based mobile applications (apps) to deliver MBIs, given the potential for reducing barriers related to cost and access (Creswell, 2017). To date, brief MBIs delivered via smartphone apps have shown promise in improving mental health in non-clinical samples (Flett et al., 2019). However, there have been no smartphone-based app studies examining the specific impacts of an app-based LKM practice on mental health outcomes. The primary aim of the present research was to determine the efficacy of a brief app-based LKM practice in improving mental health and well-being. The primary outcome was depressive symptoms and secondary outcomes were perceived stress, negative affect, positive affect, and self-compassion. A secondary aim of the study was to explore the conditions under which a brief app-based LKM may be most beneficial. To this end, the moderating roles of trait mindfulness, fear of compassion for self, and frequency of app use (dose) on intervention outcomes were examined. A two-arm randomized control trial (RCT) design was utilized. A sample of 312 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to use an app-based LKM (Insight Timer; intervention) or an app-based attention task (Evernote; control) every day for 10 consecutive days. Participants completed a standardized assessment battery pre- and post-intervention. The findings indicated that participants in the LKM condition had reductions in distress from pre- to post-intervention – namely depressive symptoms, perceived stress, and negative affect – compared to the control condition. There were no significant changes in positive affect and self-compassion between conditions. No significant moderation effects of trait mindfulness, fear of compassion for self, or frequency of app use emerged. Findings lend support for the use of brief app-based LKM practices to reduce distress among university students.

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