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OM, Are We Sure This Is Safe?

Mediation Apps’ Red Alerts

By Sean Zucker —

The emotional and physical benefits of traditional meditation and mindfulness are well established. But can these benefits come through a digital platform? There is growing evidence that meditation apps, such as Headspace and Insight, can deliver the goods. Unfortunately, these apps may also foster health dangers associated with too much cell phone usage, especially among a high-risk demographic.

Mediation by itself isn’t the problem. Never has been. In 2010, for example, the University of Oregon conducted a study that found that just 11 hours of traditional, in-person meditation training enhances brain connectivity and proactivity among college students and your adults. The research concluded that meditation, specifically integrative body-mind training, boosted efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals. The study only reaffirmed what many had known for years. Meditation can enhance focus and self-awareness, which can directly boost emotional strength.

Now, less than a decade removed from these findings, tech companies believe they can replicate the findings by shifting meditation training to a digital form. In late 2017, Carnegie Mellon University tested a mental health meditation app through a smartphone-based study by implementing a fourteen-day mindfulness training program using only meditation apps. The research found that these apps can reduce the body’s response to biological stress, as participants learned to be more accepting.

The good news for meditation apps didn’t end there. This June scientists at the University of California – San Francisco developed a six-week personalized digital meditation program that significantly improved attention and memory in young adults.

A big problem facing these apps is that their target demographic is also the most susceptible to the dangers of cellphone overuse. Kent State University, for example, found that frequent cell phone use by college students is directly linked to increased anxiety, lower grades and reduced happiness. These drawbacks directly undermine the benefits of traditional meditation.

Scientists at the Radiological Society of North America raised another red flag when they released evidence suggesting overuse of cell phones can create an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people, possibly leading to smartphone and internet addiction. Young people aren’t the only ones at risk. Some scientists have feared various long-term harmful effects, including cancer, tied to regular cell phone use among all ages.

The growth of apps and other digital services and channels are not likely to recede anytime soon. Monitoring their collective impact on our emotional and physical well-being, therefore, is more than a good idea. It’s a necessity.




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