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Effects of a Single Session of Large-Group


Meditation and Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Training on Stress Reduction, Reactivity, and
Recovery
Sarah M. Rausch, Sandra E. Gramling, and Stephen M. Auerbach
Virginia Commonwealth University

Three hundred eighty-seven undergraduate students in a large-group setting


were exposed to 20 min of either meditation, progressive muscle relaxation
(PMR), or a control condition, followed by 1 min of stress induction and
another 10 min of each intervention. Participants in the meditation and PMR
groups decreased more in cognitive, somatic, and general state anxiety than
controls. The PMR group had the greatest decline in somatic anxiety, lending
some support to the cognitive/somatic specificity hypothesis. After exposure
to a visual stressor, those in the relaxation conditions had higher levels of
anxiety and recovered more quickly than controls. Findings demonstrated the
effectiveness of brief group training in meditation or PMR in reducing state
anxiety after exposure to a transitory stressor.
Keywords: stress, stress reactivity, meditation, PMR, progressive muscle relaxation

A recent study conducted by the National Center for Complementary and


Alternative Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics reported
that, as of 2002, 62% of Americans had used some form of complementary
and alternative medicine (CAM) and 52% had used mind body techniques,
such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) (Barnes, PowellSarah M. Rausch, Sandra E. Gramling, and Stephen M. Auerbach, Department of
Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.
This study was supported in part by Virginia Commonwealth Universitys Department of
Psychology graduate research award, as well as the Evelyn Gunst Masters Award. The
research for this manuscript was conducted as the first authors masters thesis, under the
guidance of the second author. Our deepest thanks go to all of the research assistants who
assisted with this project, especially Thomas Hagan and Jennifer Berry, and to the Department
of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University for providing innumerable resources.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sarah M. Rausch, Virginia
Commonwealth University, Department of Psychology, Thurston House, 808 West Franklin
Street, P.O. Box 842018, Richmond, VA 23284-2018. E-mail: rauschsm@vcu.edu
273
International Journal of Stress Management
2006, Vol. 13, No. 3, 273290

Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association


1072-5245/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1072-5245.13.3.273

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Rausch, Gramling, and Auerbach

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Griner, McFann, & Nahin, 2004). Despite such widespread use, questions
remain regarding the comparative effectiveness of these techniques, how they
work, and for whom they work best. The present study compares the
effectiveness of meditation and PMR as anxiety management techniques for
individuals exposed to a short-term stressor.

MEDITATION AND PMR

Meditation and PMR have both been shown to produce a range of


positive outcomes. Reported effects of meditation include decreased stress
(Janowiak & Hackman, 1994), anxiety (Delmonte, 1985), and physiological
arousal (Harmon & Myers, 1999), as well as empathy development (Wolf &
Abell, 2003) and increased rate of autonomic recovery from laboratoryinduced stressful events (Goleman & Schwartz, 1976). PMR techniques have
been found to be effective in controlling anxiety (e.g., Carlson, Bacaseta, &
Simanton, 1988; Carrington, Collings, Benson, Robinson, Wood, Lehrer, et
al., 1980; Pawlow & Jones, 2002), decreasing cortisol levels (Pawlow &
Jones, 2002), reducing pain (Gada, 1985), regulating physiological processes
(Carlson et al., 1988), and increasing overall quality of life (Carrington et al.,
1980). In contrast to conclusions about PMR, conclusions regarding meditations beneficial effects have been tempered by criticisms that some studies
have not evaluated pure meditation uncontaminated by combination approaches and that many studies have been poorly controlled (e.g., Smith,
1990; Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). Both approaches are nonetheless
generally accepted and recommended by clinicians as anxiety management
procedures (Auerbach & Gramling, 1998; Barlow, 2001; Lehrer & Woolfolk,
1993; Smith, 2005a).
Questions of comparative effectiveness and of whether the techniques
produce different kinds of effects have been addressed but not resolved.
Benson (1975) proposed that meditation, PMR, and all the relaxation techniques elicit a generic relaxation response and are therefore interchangeable and likely equally effective. Consistent with this notion, Wallace and
Benson (1972) found that both meditation and PMR produced a general
hypoarousal effect including decreases in heart rate, respiration, skin resistance, metabolism, and brain activity. Others have found the two techniques
to be equally effective in reducing anxiety (e.g., Raskin, Bali, & Peeke, 1980;
Thomas & Abbas, 1978; Woolfolk, Lehrer, McCann, & Rooney, 1982). The
search for specific treatment effects has been largely oriented around Davidson and Schwartzs (1976) cognitive/somatic specificity hypothesis, which
posits that cognitive techniques such as meditation will produce effects
primarily in the domain of cognitive anxiety whereas somatic relaxation

Meditation and PMR

275

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procedures such as PMR will primarily affect somatic anxiety. Findings of


the relatively few studies that have directly tested this hypothesis (e.g.,
Lehrer, Schoicket, Carrington, & Woolfolk, 1980; Lehrer, Woolfolk,
Rooney, McCann, & Carrington, 1983) have been mixed.

THE PRESENT STUDY

Many other comparative relaxation studies (e.g., Throll, 1981; Woolfolk


et al., 1982; Zuroff & Schwarz, 1978) have evaluated outcomes solely using
a generalized self-report measure of state anxiety and thus have not differentiated between the cognitive and somatic domains. In the present study, we
use separate self-report measures of cognitive and somatic anxiety along with
a generalized state anxiety measure to evaluate the Davidson and Schwartz
specificity hypothesis. In contrast to many previous studies comparing relaxation techniques (Carrington et al., 1980; Delmonte, 1984; Schwartz,
Davidson, & Goleman, 1978; Warrenburg, Pagano, Woods, & Hlastala,
1980), we used a rigorous randomized control group design with live trainers.

METHOD
Participants

Undergraduate students enrolled in various psychology courses at a large


urban university were recruited for participation in this study. All research
participants were offered either extra credit or course credit for participating
in the study. They were recruited via advertising that was posted on a
computerized Internet program. When participants arrived at a designated
classroom, the experiment trainer gave an overview of the informed consent.
Once all participants had signed their informed consent, the experiment
began.
There were 405 participants in the study. Eighteen (4.4%) reported that
they regularly or daily practiced either meditation or PMR. To maintain a
homogeneous sample of novice meditators, these eighteen participants were
excluded from data analyses. Of the resultant sample of 387 participants, the
majority (52.2%) identified themselves as Caucasian, followed by 28.9%
identifying as African American. Overall, 71.3% were female. Most identified as being single (93.3%), and the mean age of the sample was 19 years
(SD 3.37), with a range of 17 42 years.

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Rausch, Gramling, and Auerbach

Measures

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State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)State Version


The State Anxiety Scale of the STAI (Spielberger, 1983) was used to
evaluate state or transitory anxiety levels. This 20-item inventory assesses
current feelings of apprehension, nervousness, tension, and worry. Items are
rated on a 4-point scale. Alpha reliability coefficients are reported to be
greater than .90.

Cognitive Anxiety Scale


The Cognitive Anxiety Scale (CAS; Smith, 2005b) is a 6-item scale that
reflects content areas typically measured by cognitive anxiety inventories
such as worrisome thoughts. A state format was used in which participants
indicate the extent to which a cognitive anxiety statement fits at the present
moment using a 5-point Likert scale. Alpha reliability has been .92.

Smith Somatic Stress Symptoms ScaleState (SSSSS-S)


The SSSSS (Smith, 1990) is a 16-item measure of somatic anxiety. A
state format was used in which participants indicate the extent to which each
somatic stress statement fits in the present moment using a 5-point Likert
scale. It has a coefficient alpha reliability of .89.

Demographic Questionnaire (DQ)


A demographic questionnaire assessed participant characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, level of education, occupation, marital
status, previous experience with both meditation and PMR, and annual
income.

Photographic Stimuli

Four negative affect- and arousal-evoking photographic slides from


the International Affective Picture System (IAPS; Lang, Bradley, &
Cuthbert, 1997, 1999) were used as visual stressors in the present study.

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Meditation and PMR

277

Pictures from this slide set have been used in numerous studies on
psychophysiology and emotion (Lang et al., 1999). In standardization
studies of the IAPS, 700 slides were rated on a 9-point scale for valence
(emotions ranging from sad to happy) and arousal (calm and sleepy to
excited) dimensions by college students in groups (Lang et al., 1999). The
4 slides chosen for the present study (numbers 3000, 3010, 3015, and
9433) depicted multicultural human trauma and trauma aftermath and are
among the lowest valence (M 1.63) and highest arousal (M 6.55)
slides in the picture library. The slides were shown from a Proxima
projector onto a screen at the front of a classroom for 15 s each,
continuously, for a total viewing time of 1 min.

Procedure

The study was conducted in a large classroom. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three intervention groups (meditation, PMR, or
controls). After obtaining informed consent, participants were given an
overview of the experiment and the opportunity to ask questions. Participants
first completed the following baseline measures: DQ, STAI, CAS, and
SSSSS (phase 1). They were then given approximately 3 4 min of instruction in either meditation, PMR, or eyes-closed rest (control) and were
instructed to perform their relaxation technique for 20 min (phase 2). Participants then immediately completed the STAI, CAS, and SSSSS, responding in terms of their current feelings to assess state anxiety levels (phase 3).
They were then shown the four negative-emotion-evoking slides from the
IAPS for 15 s each (phase 4). Participants were instructed to watch the slides
for the entire duration and not close their eyes. After viewing the slides,
participants again immediately completed the STAI, CAS, and SSSSS responding in terms of their current feelings (phase 5). Subsequently, participants were instructed to again use their designated relaxation technique
(meditation, PMR or eyes-closed rest) for 10 min (phase 6). They again
responded immediately to the STAI, CAS, and SSSSS in terms of their
current feelings (phase 7). This design allowed the researcher to assess for
effects of the relaxation techniques, stress reactivity differences, and recovery
from the stressor.

Interventions

All intervention groups (meditation, PMR, and eyes-closed rest) were


conducted by a live trainer for the same time periods (20 min relaxation prior

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Rausch, Gramling, and Auerbach

to stressor exposure and 10 min after stressor exposure). All groups were
given identical manualized instructions; only the specific instructions regarding the treatment varied. All conditions asked participants to close their eyes.
All of the groups met in an academic classroom with 20 40 other participants. Participants sat in hard chairs behind a desk. Floors were hard tile.
Lights were dimmed during relaxation phases, turned off during slide viewing, and turned on when measures were filled out. There were a total of 13
experimental groups (4 control, 4 meditation, and 5 PMR). Trainer 1 (a
Caucasian advanced graduate student in psychology and course instructor in
stress management) conducted 3 control, 3 meditation, and 4 PMR groups.
Trainer 2 (an African American advanced undergraduate psychology honors
student who was blind to the hypotheses and who received instruction and
practice in implementing all techniques in large groups from both a senior
faculty member and trainer 1) conducted one of each of the groups. Assignment of trainers to groups was random. Both were trained extensively in
teaching the intervention techniques to others. To reach proficiency before
running experimental groups, the trainers completed home study, role-playing activities, direct and audio-taped supervision, observation, and mentored
individual and group administration before independently running experimental sessions.

Meditation
Participants in the meditation group were instructed in a noncultic
form of mantra meditation similar to Clinically Standardized Meditation
(CSM; Carrington & Ephron, 1978). The only differences were in the
teaching style (we did not teach individually and did not repeat the mantra
aloud to the participants) and the type of mantra chosen (we allowed
participants to choose their own mantra with no phonetic restrictions).
Participants were first given a 3- to 4-min overview of how the technique
would be executed; Then they were shown a projection slide with various
mantras (words or short phrases to be repeated) to choose from but were
also given the option to choose their own mantra. However, participants
were advised not to choose a word associated with negative emotions or
profanity (e.g., kill, hate). After choosing one mantra, they were instructed to focus on the mantra and to continually repeat their mantra
mentally. They were also told that when their mind wandered to other
thoughts, they should gently bring it back to focus on the mantra.
Participants were given a short 1-min meditation practice time and the
opportunity to ask any questions. Then participants were given either a

Meditation and PMR

279

20- or 10-min (depending on the phase of the experiment) time period to


meditate.

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PMR
Participants in the PMR condition were instructed in an abbreviated
PMR technique, which involves tensing and then relaxing nine muscle
groups (Gramling & Auerbach, 1998, pp. 2533). The technique used nine
main muscle groups: (a) hands and forearms; (b) upper arms; (c) forehead;
(d) eyes, nose, and cheeks; (e) jaw, chin, front of neck; (f) back of neck; (g)
upper body; (h) legs up with toes pointed down; and (i) legs up with toes
pointed up. Participants began by taking a few deep breaths, tensing muscles
for approximately 15 s, and then releasing and focusing on the difference
between tension and relaxation for approximately 30 s. Participants were first
given a 3- to 4-min overview of how the technique would be executed, then
instructions with a short 1-min practice using their fist, and the opportunity
to ask any questions. Then, participants were guided through either a 20- or
10-min (depending on the phase of the experiment) session of PMR by the
instructor.

Control
Participants in the control condition were instructed to sit with their
eyes closed and relax during the intervention periods. This condition
was designed to control for the nonspecific effects of trainer interaction,
social interaction, attention, environment, time, and closed eyes. Participants in the control condition followed an identical procedure and time
periods as the two experimental groups (with the exception of a 1-min
practice in the other two groups). For instance, when the experimental
groups relaxed for 20 min, the control group was asked to sit with eyes
closed and relax for 20 min. They were given the following verbatim
instructions: Now, we are going to practice relaxing. For 20 minutes I
would like you to sit with your eyes closed and relax. Please do not do
anything else during this time. Keep all of your things put away. Do not
worry about the timeI will be keeping track of the time. Anything that
you still have waiting for you will still be there waiting when we finish.
Do not worry about time. I will let you know when the time is up. Now
close your eyes and relax. For the second short session they were told:
We are going to practice our relaxation again. Please sit with your eyes
closed again for 10 minutes.

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RESULTS

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Preliminary Analyses

For all subsequent analyses, preliminary assumption testing was conducted to check for normality, linearity, univariate and multivariate outliers,
homogeneity of variance covariance matrices, and multicollinearity, with no
violations noted. To examine possible differences among intervention groups
on demographic variables, independent sample t-tests and chi-square tests
were conducted. There were no significant differences among groups on any
of the demographic variables. One-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs)
revealed that there were no significant differences among groups on any
baseline measures. There were also no significant differences between participants who had different trainers on any of the demographic variables or
baseline measures.

Effects of Relaxation Techniques: Meditation Versus PMR Versus Control

To evaluate the effects of the relaxation techniques on general, cognitive,


and somatic anxiety prior to stressor exposure, a 3 (group) 2 (time periods
[before and after the initial 20-min relaxation]) repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted.
Irrespective of intervention condition, there was an overall decline in
anxiety following the initial 20-min intervention period relative to baseline
on the combined dependent variables: F(1, 339) 81.45, p .001; Wilks
lambda .59; partial eta squared .42. As noted in Figures 1a1c, when the
dependent measures were considered separately, a significant decrease over
time was observed on each measure: general state anxiety (STAI)
F(1, 339) 155.34, p .001, partial eta squared .32; cognitive anxiety
(CAS) F(1, 338) 186.82, p .001, partial eta squared .36; and somatic
anxiety (SSSSS) F(1, 339) 60.15, p .001, partial eta squared .15.
Additionally, there was a significant group time periods interaction
effect on the combined dependent variables F(2, 339) 4.79, p .01;
Wilks lambda .92; partial eta squared .05. When each dependent
measure was considered separately, there was a significant interaction effect
for general state anxiety (STAI) F(2, 339) 9.57, p .001, partial eta
squared .05, and somatic anxiety (SSSSS) F(2, 339) 3.27, p .05,
partial eta squared .04. The interaction for cognitive anxiety (CAS) was
not significant: F(2, 339) 1.605, p .20. Post hoc analyses using Tukeys
B indicated that (a) the decrease in state anxiety (STAI) was greater within
the meditation and PMR groups from pre- to post-relaxation relative to the

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Meditation and PMR

281

Figure 1. Group differences in general state anxiety (STAI) scores before and after 20-min

relaxation (a), group differences in cognitive anxiety (CAS) scores before and after 20-min
relaxation (b), and group differences in somatic anxiety (SSSSS) scores before and after 20-min
relaxation (c).

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Rausch, Gramling, and Auerbach

control group, and (b) the decrease in somatic anxiety (SSSSS) was greater
within the PMR group from pre- to post-relaxation relative to the other two
groups (all ps .05; see Figures 1a1c).

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Stress Reactivity and Recovery

To evaluate stress reactivity, a 3 3 (group time periods) repeated


measures MANOVA was performed to investigate group (control, meditation, PMR) differences in anxiety scores (STAI, CAS, SSSSS) across the
stress reactivity and recovery phases. The between-subjects variable was
group (meditation, PMR, and control), and the within-subjects factor was
time period (after the initial 20-min relaxation, after stressor exposure, and
after 10-min recovery relaxation). Univariate analyses indicated that the
phase 3 (after initial 20-min relaxation) group differences on each measure
were not significantly different from each other; therefore no covariate was
needed in these analyses.
A repeated measures MANOVA produced a main effect for time
periods: F(2, 322) 38.86, p .001, Wilks lambda .67, partial eta
squared .46. When the dependent measures were considered separately,
there was a significant effect for each of the variables: general state
anxiety (STAI) F(2, 322) 86.06, p .001, partial eta squared .19;
cognitive anxiety (CAS) F(2, 322) 56.72, p .001, partial eta
squared .16; and somatic anxiety (SSSSS) F(2, 322) 67.44, p .001,
partial eta squared .18. As may be noted in Figures 2a2c, these effects
were due to a sharp increase in anxiety on all measures after exposure to
the stressor and a subsequent sharp decrease after 10 min of recovery
relaxation.
Additionally, there was a significant group time periods interaction
effect on the combined measures: F(2, 322) 5.48, p .001, Wilks
lambda .94, partial eta squared.033. When the results for the dependent measures were considered separately, there was a significant interaction effect for general state anxiety (STAI): F(2, 322) 4.78, p .01,
partial eta squared .05, but no significant interaction effects for either
cognitive anxiety (CAS), F(2, 322) .15, p .96, or somatic anxiety
(SSS), F(2, 322) .68, p .60. Secondary analyses confirmed that the
STAI interaction was significant for both phases 35 (before and after
picture viewing), F(2, 322) 10.22, p .01, and phases 57 (before and
after recovery), F(2, 322) 3.00, p .05. Post hoc analyses using
Tukeys B revealed that participants in both the meditation and PMR
conditions reported significantly greater increases than the control group
in general state anxiety (STAI scores) from phase 3 to phase 5 (before and

283

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Meditation and PMR

Figure 2. Group differences in stress reactivity and recovery on general state anxiety (STAI) (a),
group differences in stress reactivity and recovery on cognitive anxiety (CAS) (b), and group
differences in stress reactivity and recovery on somatic anxiety (SSSSS) (c).

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Rausch, Gramling, and Auerbach

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after picture viewing) (all ps .05). Additionally, as shown in Figure 2a,


participants in both relaxation groups reported significantly greater decreases relative to the control group in general state anxiety (STAI scores)
from phase 5 to phase 7 (before and after the 10-min relaxation after
picture viewing).
High-Anxiety Participants

Because our population was relatively healthy and had normal initial
levels of anxiety (mean STAI 40.41), we conducted further analyses on a
subset of participants (n 66) with anxiety levels greater than 1 SD above
the mean (STAI 48). Initial analyses revealed that there were group
differences on baseline measures of somatic anxiety (SSSSS; F 3.75, p
.03), with mean levels of anxiety as follows: PMR group, M 120.48;
meditation group, M 116.86; control group, M 108.60. Therefore, to
account for these differences, the subsequent analyses were run with baseline
SSSSS as a covariate. To evaluate the impact of the initial 20-min stress
reduction, a MANCOVA with before and after change scores and baseline
somatic anxiety (SSSSS) as a covariate was conducted. Group designation
was the between-subjects variable, and all three anxiety measures were the
dependent variables.
Irrespective of intervention condition, there was an overall decline in
anxiety following the initial 20-min intervention period relative to baseline
on the combined dependent variables: F(1, 59) 25.56, p .001, Wilks
lambda .41, partial eta squared .59. When the dependent measures were
considered separately, a significant decrease over time was observed on each
measure: general state anxiety (STAI) F(1, 339) 155.34, p .001, partial
eta squared .32; cognitive anxiety (CAS) F(1, 338) 186.82, p .001,
partial eta squared .36; and somatic anxiety (SSSSS) F(1, 339) 60.15,
p .001, partial eta squared .15.
Additionally, there was a significant group time periods interaction
effect on the combined dependent variables: F(2, 339) 4.79, p .01,
Wilks lambda .92, partial eta squared .05. When each dependent
measure was considered separately, there was a significant interaction effect
for general state anxiety (STAI) F(2, 339) 3.42, p .001, partial eta
squared .13, and somatic anxiety (SSSSS) F(2, 339) 4.44, p .05,
partial eta squared .17. The interaction for cognitive anxiety (CAS) was
not significant: F(2, 339) 1.605, p .92. Inspection indicated that PMR
was more effective in reducing somatic anxiety than either meditation or
eyes-closed rest. Additionally, the greatest reductions in general state anxiety
were reported in the meditation group, followed by PMR; eyes-closed rest
had the smallest reductions.

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Meditation and PMR

285

To evaluate the stress reactivity and recovery differences in those with


high levels of anxiety, a 3 (group) 3 (time points) repeated measures
MANCOVA was performed with baseline somatic anxiety (SSSSS) as a
covariate. There was a significant group time interaction for the combined
dependent measures: F(3, 52) 1.93, p .05, Wilks lambda .56, partial
eta squared .25. When each dependent measure was considered separately,
there was a significant interaction effect for STAI only: F 2.53, p .01,
partial eta squared .15. The results were not significant for cognitive
(CAS), F(3, 52) 1.17, p .12, and somatic anxiety (SSSSS), F(3, 52)
1.92, p .12. Secondary ANCOVA analyses indicated that the interaction
was significant for both the stress reactivity, F(2, 49) 6.65, p .01, partial
eta squared .21, and recovery, F(2, 49) 2.67, p .05, partial eta
squared .09, phases. Inspection indicated that those in the meditation and
PMR groups reacted significantly more to the stressor and recovered more
effectively from the stressor than the control group.

DISCUSSION
Impact of Stress Reduction Techniques

The present findings indicate that a single 20-min group session of


meditation or PMR effectively elicits reductions in anxiety in novice users
that are measurably different from those obtained sitting with ones eyes
closed. They are consistent with results of other studies reported with college
students demonstrating anxiety reduction effects with relaxation interventions (Astin, 1997; Wolf & Abell, 2003). Although various relaxation procedures are commonly used in clinical settings (Barlow, 2001), meditation in
particular is often overlooked or avoided because of its association with
spiritual and/or religious domains (Bogart, 1991). However, individuals who
already have a spiritual or religious orientation may be more inclined toward
meditation as a relaxation procedure. Further, it may be particularly useful for
other populations such as those who are physically disabled, who are elderly,
and who work in a formal setting with limited time or opportunity to practice
a physical procedure.

Specific Effects

Some support was obtained for the specific effects hypothesis (Davidson
& Schwartz, 1976) in the present study. Consistent with this hypothesis,
PMR, which involves contraction and relaxation of the muscles, was asso-

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ciated with greater reductions in somatic anxiety than meditation or eyesclosed rest. Meditation, which solely involves focusing and concentration,
produced a greater decline in cognitive anxiety, but this result was not
statistically significant. From a clinical standpoint, the findings suggest that
individuals with elevated somatic anxiety may benefit more from a somatic
technique such as PMR. Further, these results also suggest that continued
research into the specificity hypothesis, research that largely disappeared
after 1985, is warranted, particularly using physiological measures to assess
somatic anxiety.

Stress Reactivity and Recovery

Consistent with previous research on stress reactivity (Goleman &


Schwartz, 1976; Kutz, Leserman, & Dorrington, 1985; Lehrer et al., 1980),
the present study supported findings that meditation plays a unique role in
reactions to laboratory stressors in that meditators tend to react more and
recover faster from stress. PMR also played a similar role in the present
study. Although stress reactivity studies utilizing meditation have primarily
relied upon physiological markers, few studies have reported these findings
with self-report measures (e.g., Lehrer et al., 1980). In the present study,
participants in both the meditation and PMR conditions reported more state
anxiety relative to the control group after viewing the stressor. Although this
response could be viewed negatively, Lehrer and colleagues (Lehrer et al.,
1980) as well as Goleman and Schwartz (1976) interpreted this arousal
among meditators as a form of anticipatory coping response that prepares the
individual better for stress, and they suggested that meditation heightens this
response. Further, they suggest that this response is only maladaptive when
it is maintained and when a quick recovery does not occur. However, it
should be noted that it is also possible that all three groups reacted to the
visual stressor with some anxiety, but that the experimental conditions had
more of a change in their scores only because they started completely
relaxed. Therefore, it is possible that the stressors simply brought relaxed
individuals out of their relaxation state, and then all three groups responded
with similar anxiety to the stressors. In the present experiment, both the
meditation and the PMR groups also reported greater recovery (reductions in
state anxiety) than the control group after a short 10-min relaxation period
following the picture viewing.
It is important to note that these effects were observed after a single
session of either meditation or PMR in novices. Very few prior studies report
using a single session of relaxation training as an intervention (Carlson et al.,
1988). Most studies have used 6- to 12-week interventions that meet approx-

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Meditation and PMR

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imately 1 to 3 hr a week with daily home practice included (e.g., Astin, 1997;
Carrington et al., 1980; DeBerry, 1982; Delmonte, 1984; Gada, 1985; Kutz
et al., 1985). Clinically, the present findings suggest that the use of meditation
or PMR to ameliorate short-term stress reactions may have greater therapeutic potential than previously realized. Because 65% of Americans reported
feeling a significant amount of stress one or more times a week (Janowiak &
Hackman, 1994), and 66% feel that stress is impacting their health (KRC,
2003), there is great potential benefit of promoting these techniques for stress
management.

High-Anxiety Participants

Because it is well known that healthy individuals are able to relax easily
and the generalizability of findings from our sample of healthy undergraduates may be limited, we also analyzed the effects of anxiety changes as a
function of the experimental conditions in a subset of 66 highly anxious
participants. These analyses addressed the question of whether the present
findings have potential relevance to individuals with clinically significant
levels of anxiety and the question of the clinical versus statistical significance
of the findings given the power inherent in the large sample size. We obtained
essentially the same results for this subsample as for the much larger sample
of unselected students. In the highly anxious subsample, PMR was most
effective for reductions in somatic anxiety, and both meditation and PMR
were effective for reducing general state anxiety, although meditation produced the largest effects. Although these novice participants began the
experiment with clinically elevated levels of anxiety (STAI 48), a mere 20
min of these group interventions were effective in reducing anxiety to normal
levels. Additionally, after being exposed to a stressor, merely 10 min of the
interventions allowed this high-anxiety group to recover from the stressor.
Thus, brief interventions of meditation and PMR may be effective for those
with clinical levels of anxiety and for stress recovery when exposed to brief,
transitory stressors.

Strengths and Limitations

Participants were recruited from a population of college students who


were reacting to experimentally induced versus real-life stressors. We chose
this population because it allowed us access to a diverse group of novice
meditators. College students also are said to experience high levels of
ongoing stress. However, the unique characteristics of the sample may

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restrict the generalizability of the findings to other populations. Also, the


setting for this study was an academic classroom with seating at wooden
desks, in a large-group format in which the relaxation procedures were
taught. Individuals generally do not learn and practice relaxation procedures
in such a setting. This environment may have inhibited participants full
relaxation and limited the anxiety-reducing impact of the interventions. Our
findings revealed that participants were able to relax in this setting, although
it may have been somewhat uncomfortable. Although participants showed
measurable changes from the interventions, the full extent of these changes
may not have been exhibited because of the environment in which the study
took place. From another standpoint, the effects of meditation in particular
may have been underestimated. Meditation, because of its novelty, often
requires more than one session to have an impact, whereas PMR is more
likely to produce effects immediately because overt physical activity is
involved. It should also be noted that some of the obtained effect sizes were
small, limiting the practical applicability of the findings.

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