While popular, researchers say there is a serious lack of evidence to back up mindfulness apps, even though they are increasingly perceived as proven treatments for mental health.
A handful of studies have been published on the efficacy of mindfulness apps, thanks in part to Headspace, one of the most popular apps in the field. In hopes of getting its app scientifically validated, the organization has partnered on more than 60 studies with 35 academic institutions. In the meantime, in lieu of research proving that apps work, marketers tend to draw misleading, but attractive claims.
Mindfulness disrupts unhelpful habits. If you get distracted easily or have addictions, mindfulness helps curb these habits. But, in contrast, apps become popular and profitable by getting users lightly addicted to repetitive use. So, can an app really treat addiction, or is it inherently part of the problem? As of now, we don’t know the answer to that question.
When people have their first meditation experience with an app, the nature of the app influences how they understand meditation. For the vast majority, meditation apps = meditation. So they miss the real point of mindfulness this - as a way to experience the present moment.
Digital mindfulness training could be effective in theory: it can be affordable, accessible, flexible, anonymous, empowering, and enjoyable. It might be in helping users see mindfulness as part of their lives. But when a meditation app becomes just another habit, like checking email, it risks becoming less mindfulness training and more so just another piece of technology taking up headspace.
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