Psychologists have been studying mindfulness for some time now, mostly bringing Western scientific tradition to Eastern philosophy. In doing so, Western psychologists have demonstrated numerous benefits to the practice of mindfulness, both for the short-term overall health of the mind and body, and for resilience over the lifespan. But psychologists do not necessarily conceptualize mindfulness in the same way that Eastern philosophers do.
Although psychologists acknowledge that mindfulness embraces focusing attention in a non-judgmental way on the present moment, and living with acceptance in the present moment, many of the studies have not actually taught their participants to be mindful. Instead, psychologists have relied on self-report scales (where participants respond to certain questions about themselves and their characteristics) in order to determine how mindful the participants are. In other words, psychologists often focus on trait mindfulness, which can vary individual-to-individual, as opposed to state mindfulness, which Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies typically describe.
A relatively recent study has examined one of those self-report measures, the FFMQ (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire). The research, conducted by Christopher, Neusser, Michael, & Baitmangalkar, http://doi 10.100/s12671-011-0086-xset out to determine the statistical properties of this scale, which describes mindfulness in terms of Observing, Describing, Awareness, Nonjudging, and Nonreactivity. The authors found that the five factors appeared to be distinct aspects of mindfulness, although they were correlated with each other. Additionally, some of the factors predicted outcomes that were to be expected. For example, acting with awareness, and being nonjugmental and nonreactive negatively predicted being depressed. Describing, acting with awareness, and being nonjudgmental and nonreactive predicted life satisfaction. Although there were some anomalies (e.g., being obervant positively predicted depression), most of the facets of the scale were related to predictable outcomes.
The authors concluded that the FFMQ is a valid and reliable instrument for measuring individual differences in mindfulness. Although much about the benefits of mindfulness can be learned from these measures, it continues to be important to use experimental studies where participants are actually trained in mindfulness procedures in order to begin to establish causal relationships between mindfulness and health or other benefits.