Predicting Individual differences in Mindfulness: The role of Trait Anxiety, Openness and Parental Nurturance



Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, intentionally and without judgement to the present moment. Mindfulness training has shown impressive outcomes in a number of areas such as depression and pain reduction; however, the literature has failed to account for natural, individual differences in levels of mindfulness. This research provides an exploration of the variables: Trait Anxiety, Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance and their ability to predict individual differences in Mindfulness. 123 participants each completed four questionnaires: The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was used to assess Trait Anxiety, the NEO-FFI was used to measure Openness to Experience, the Parental Nurturance Inventory was used to measure Parental Nurturance, and Mindfulness was assessed using the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI). Partially consistent with the predictions, Trait Anxiety was shown to negatively predict Mindfulness, Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance where not as strong predictors of Mindfulness.

Key Terms: Mindfulness, Trait Anxiety, Openness, Parental Nurturance.

  1. Introduction

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, intentionally and without judgement to the present moment. The practice of Mindfulness originated in East India and is at the heart of Buddhist meditation. According to Kabat-Zinn (1994, 4) ‘This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality’. A lack of or reduced awareness to the present-moment, however, has the opposite affect which results in fear driven ‘unconscious and automatic actions and behaviours’. Continuing in this pattern of diminished awareness results in erosion to ones confidence and hinders the possibility of a life of satisfaction, health and happiness (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Traditionally, Mindfulness was viewed as a spiritual practice, heavily steeped in Buddhism; however, more recently this practice has been widely encouraged in the western society (Baer, 2003).

According to Baer (2003) there are two main Mindfulness training programmes namely the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Other therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Relapse Prevention incorporate principles of Mindfulness into the programme. Most Mindfulness training programmes run for a serious of 8-10 weeks, with a one day a week group meeting which is held for approximately 2 hours. Clients are also required to do homework session including 45 minutes per day, 6 days a week.

Evidence suggests that Mindfulness-based training intervention is effective. Research indicates that Mindfulness-based training is effective in working with borderline personality disorder, mood disorders, pain, generalised anxiety disorder, stress, alcohol and substance abuse, and eating disorders (Baer, 2003; Roemer, 2002; Williams, Teasdale, Segal, & Soulsby, 2000; Witkiewitz, Marlatt, & Walker, 2005; Woodman, Noyes, Black, Schlosser, & Yagia, 1999; Zettle & Rains, 1989).

Without any way of accurately, and objectively measuring levels of Mindfulness, positive findings were attributed to the training alone. Brown and Ryan (2003), however, proposed that individual differences may account for differences in levels of Mindfulness. The introduction of a measure for Mindfulness has made room for researchers to explore this proposal in greater depth. The present study attempts to explore a question: to what extent do individual differences influence levels of Mindfulness. The literature highlights three such individual differences that may be of interest: Trait Anxiety, Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance.

The experience of anxiety is one that is familiar to most people; and Kaplan and Sadock (1998) describe the related symptoms as including an uneasy feeling followed by automatic responses such as headaches, perspiring and tightness in the chest. Trait anxiety, as apposed to state anxiety, is a persistent and does not wane in less stressful times. These researchers identify anxiety as having two components, namely awareness to the physiological sensations and awareness to being afraid. These experiences often lead to feelings of embarrassment, and in order to feel justified for the anxiety, people tend to focus on certain, conforming aspects of the environment and overlooking others. As a result of this bias to attention, a person is unable to experience the presence as a whole. Trait Anxiety is therefore expected to have an inverse relationship with Mindfulness.

Openness to Experience is one of the five main personality domains and is described by McCrae and John (1992) as encompassing such things as imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, awareness of inner feelings, an inclination towards variety, and intellectual curiosity. Individuals who score high on this scale tend to be motivated to discover their environment, ask questions and have a readiness to question authority. As such, it is hypothesized that a high level of Openness to Experience would be a positive predictor of Mindfulness, since these individuals approach their environment with awareness, which is not clouded by judgment.

The manner in which a parent responds to their child in the first years of his or her life has a far reaching impact on their adult life, affecting their relationships, both intimate, social and professional, how they interpret information given to them from the environment and whether or not they view the world as a safe place, and whether or not people are trust worthy (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, & Target, 2005). According to this theory of attachment, Parental Nurturance is also an important factor in determining an individual’s ability to contain his or her own emotions. From this, it is hypothesised that positive Parental Nurturance will be a good predictor of Mindfulness as individuals are able to be present in their environment in a trusting, non-judgmental way.

The present study explores the predictive value of these variables for increased levels of Mindfulness. In light of the literature, it is thought that a low level of Trait Anxiety will have an inverse relationship with Mindfulness, and that Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance will be positive predictors of Mindfulness.

  1. Method
  1. Design and Measures

For the purpose of the present research study, a cross-sectional, correlational design was adopted. Information was thereby elicited from people in a number of different conditions, namely Trait Anxiety, Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance (independent variables), and the dependent variable of Mindfulness. The following measures where used:

Spielberger’s (1983) State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was used to assess Trait component of Anxiety. The STAI is designed to measure and distinguish between anxiety as a trait or as a state. Trait anxiety is a relatively stable personality trait and is marked by feelings of apprehension and tension, which is heightened in times of perceived threat. State anxiety, however, fluctuates and is heightened at times of stress and low in less stressful periods. This is a self-report, four-point rating scale, including 20 statements that ask people to describe how they feel at a particular moment. A high score is indicative of a high level of Trait Anxiety.

Costa and McCrae’s (1991) NEO-FFI was used to assess Openness to Experience. This is a 60-item version of the NEO PI-R, which measures only the five factors of adult personality, however for the purpose of this study, only the twelve-item scale assessing Openness was employed. This is measure makes use of a five-point rating scale, where participants demonstrated the degree of agreement with given statements. A high score on this scale is indicative of a high level of Openness.


Buri’s (1989) Parental Nurturance scale was used to assess this component of the study. This is a self-report, five-point Likert scale, where participants are required to describe positive and negative aspects of the parental nurturance they received. This is repeated twice, once for information pertaining to the mother and the second time for information relating to the father’s nurturance. An average of these combined scores is used as a final result, with a high score indicative of elevated levels of Parental Nurturance.

Mindfulness was measured using the FMI (Walach, Buchheld, Buttenmuller, Kleinknecht, & Schmidt, 2006). This is a short scale, 14-item, self-report measure, requiring participants to indicate their degree of agreement with a given, mindfulness direct statement. A high score on this measure is indicative of elevated levels of Mindfulness.

  1. Procedures, Participants and Ethics

Participants were purposively sampled and personally invited by written invitation to participate in this study. Of the initial 153 participants, 123 were included in the present study. A detailed outline of the nature and details of the study, including a description of what would be required of them was provided in the initial invitation. Participants were assigned to one of three separated testing groups. On receiving consent, participants were handed a package of four questionnaires (STAI, NEO-FFI, Parental-Nurturance Inventory, FMI). Each questionnaire was marked with separate instructions for completion. Each participant completed the pack of questionnaires in the same order.

  1. Results
  1. Reliability of Measures

A reliability analysis of the questionnaires was conducted, yielding satisfactory results indicating that the participants responded in a consistent manner to the questionnaires. The reliability coefficients were as follows: Mindfulness (α = .78); Trait Anxiety (α = .88); Openness (α = .73); Parental Nurturance – mother (α = .96); Parental Nurturance – father (α = .96).

  1. Descriptive Statistics

A descriptive analysis of the data obtained across the variables of Mindfulness, Trait Anxiety, Openness and Parental Nurturance is given in Table 1. As shown, the mean score for openness was 3.62, with a standard deviation (SD) of .55. The total results on the measure of Trait Anxiety yielded a mean score of 2.19, with a SD of .59. The mean score for Parental Nurturance was 3.71, with a SD of .79, and the Mindfulness mean is indicated at 2.69, with a SD of .46.

Table 1: Presentation of Mean Scores and Standard Deviations from the Measures Employed to assess Openness to Experience, Trait Anxiety, Parental Nurturance and Mindfulness.

N Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation
Openness mean 123 2.25 4.75 3.62 .55
Trait Anxiety mean 123 1.10 3.60 2.19 .59
Parental Nurturance mean 123 1.29 5.00 3.71 .79
Mindfulness mean 123 1.71 3.79 2.69 .46
Valid N (listwise) 123
  1. Inferential Statistics

The correlational analysis undertaken to explore the relationship between the dependent variable, Mindfulness, and the independent variables, Openness, Trait Anxiety and Parental Nurturance. These results are presented in Table 2. A significant, positive correlation was found between Mindfulness and Openness (r = .02, df = 3, p<.05). A negative relationship was found between Trait Anxiety and Mindfulness (r = -.56, df = 3). No significant, positive relationship was found between Parental Nurturance and Mindfulness (r = .14, df = 3, p<.05), however, it may be interesting to note that this correlation borders on significant.

Table 2. Correlational Analysis Presenting the Relationship between Mindfulness and the Variables: Openness, Trait Anxiety and Parental Nurturance.

Mindfulness mean Openness mean Trait Anxiety mean Parental Nurturance mean
Mindfulness mean Pearson Correlation 1 .19 -.56 .140
Sig. (1-tailed) . .02 .00 .06
N 123 123 123 123
Openness mean Pearson Correlation .19 1 -.11 -.04
Sig. (1-tailed) .02* . .11 .350
N 123 123 123 123
Trait Anxiety mean Pearson Correlation -.56 -.11 1 -.33
Sig. (1-tailed) .000 .11 . .000
N 123 123 123 123
Parental Nurturance mean Pearson Correlation .14 -.04 -.33 1
Sig. (1-tailed) .06 .35 .00 .
N 123 123 123 123

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (1-tailed).

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (1-tailed).

An analysis of the degree of variance (ANOVA) yielded F=19.496, which is indicative of a statistically insignificant effect. Therefore, there is no relationship between the constant and the independent variables as a group. With this information in hand, a regression was undertaken to see what differences exist in each group. These results are given in Table 3.

Table 3. Presentation of the Individual Differences between Variables.

Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients T Sig.
Model B Std. Error Beta
1 (Constant) 3.4 .37 9.12 .00
Openness mean .11 .06 .13 1.66 .10
Trait Anxiety mean -.44 .06 -.56 -6.94 .00
Parental Nurturance mean -2.274E-02 .05 -.04 -.49 .63

From this it is clear that Trait Anxiety has the strongest, inverse relationship with Mindfulness, which is a negative relationship. Therefore, lower levels of Trait Anxiety are a strong predictor for Mindfulness. Openness is shown to be an insignificant predictor of Mindfulness, and Parental Nurturance is approaching significance.

4. Discussion

The results of this study partially meet the predictions made. Openness to Experience and Parental Nurturance were not demonstrated as positive predictors of Mindfulness, although Parental Nurturance bordered on significance. Trait Anxiety was found to be a negative predictor of Mindfulness, where the lower the level of Trait Anxiety, the higher the level of Mindfulness. These results can be explained in terms of awareness to the environment. Individuals having a high level of Trait Anxiety are unable to be present in the moment since they are subject to cognitive bias, which inhibits the information they are able to process. According to Harvey, Watkins, Mansell and Shafran (2004) individuals with high levels of anxiety have explicit memory bias for concern-relative information. These authors make further reference to the Cognitive Avoidance Theory of Worry, and describe how people who worry excessively have, as a result reduced their awareness of aversive imagery, as well as physiological and emotional responses, which inhibits emotional processes. Since individuals with high levels of Trait Anxiety are working hard at suppressing unpleasant experiences in terms of physiological, emotional and psychological responses, they are reducing their ability to be Mindful. A key component of Mindfulness is the ability to absorb the environment as a whole, without judgement and being completely present in the moment. Individuals with low levels of Trait Anxiety are able to process their environment without bias, they are not fearful and ashamed, and are not required to be vigilant and suspicious of the environment and others. The qualities are similar to those describe in the description of Mindfulness, and should therefore yield similar outcomes of ‘greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality’ Kabat-Zinn (1994, 4).

From this study, it can be said that the variable of Trait Anxiety is a good predictor of the individual differences in Mindfulness. Further research into the predictive value of other personality variables may aid in the understanding of this phenomenon.


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