Cyberball

Manipulations of intergroup exclusion vs. inclusion




Decentering (Observing Thoughts During Cyberball)


Research over the previous decades has shown that mindfulness can be an effective tool in facilitating emotional regulation, especially in reducing reactivity to threat (Arch & Craske, 2006; Brown & Ryan, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 1982; 2005).

Mindfulness is an intentional and non-judgmental form of attention directed by the person, moment to moment, at internal and external phenomena as they emerge (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). This way of mindfulness practice allows one to change their perspective on emerging mental phenomena such as thoughts and emotions. This change of perspective is a form of metacognitive awareness called decentering. Metacognitive observation of mental phenomena is one of the two basic components of the operational definition of mindfulness developed by Bishop and colleagues (2004), as well as a central point of Buddhist philosophy from which the concept of mindfulness is derived.

Perceiving thoughts and emotions as transient mental products makes them less real and therefore less engaging and less threatening (Fresco, Segal, Buis, & Kennedy, 2007; Hays et al., 1999). However, previous research using short mindfulness interventions has mainly used multi-component mindfulness practice, directing attention to the breath and sensations in the body in a non-judgmental way, without explicit instructions regarding adopting a decentering perspective toward one’s thoughts. The use of this general type of intervention prevents the exact mechanism of mindfulness from being determined, and at the same time may weaken the effect of these interventions. Only recently has a metacognitive perspective on mindful practice been used explicitly, where it has been found to diminish negative processing of stressful events, food cravings, and unhealthy food choices (Lebois et al., 2015; Papies et al., 2012, 2015). Indeed, the impact of the decentering practice on stress reactions has also been verified and supported at the neural level (Lebois et al., 2015).

Description of intervention

Observation of own reactions (thoughts and emotions) while watching a Cyber Ball (CB) game. The short intervention involving participants adopting a metacognitive perspective, that is, observing one’s thoughts and emotions as transient products of one’s mind, was adapted from Papies et al. (2012).

The participants were asked to observe (for 2.5 min) their own reactions such as thoughts and emotions over the course of the CB game and to treat them as transient products of their mind. Specifically, the decentration intervention involved participants receiving information, before the game, that the thoughts produced by the mind are impermanent, mental phenomena that change all the time: appearing, disappearing, and in a moment, replaced by different thoughts. Whilst observing the game, participants were given reminders by a recording to treat their thoughts as transient products of the mind. The participants in the control group were asked to carefully observe the course of the game and to imagine in the most realistic way all players.