ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (2): 274-287.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00274

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The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on different components of impulsivity: From the perspective of dual-process theories

YANG Zhenzhi1,2, ZENG Hong1()   

  1. 1College of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
    2Division of Science and Technology, Beijing Normal University-Hongkong Baptist University United International College, Zhuhai 519087, China
  • Received:2022-03-14 Online:2023-02-15 Published:2022-11-10
  • Contact: ZENG Hong


Impulsivity is referred as a predisposition to act rashly on one’s first thoughts, which is usually characterized by little forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences of an action. According to the dual-process framework, components of impulsivity can be classified into affective impulsivity and action/cognitive impulsivity which then integrate into what is called a drive - control construct. These two types of impulsivities are dominated by the socioemotional system (driving force) and the cognitive control system (controlling force) respectively. The dual-process theories offer a novel explanation for the underlying mechanisms of impulsivity, and Mindfulness practices is a type of method that can effectively regulate impulsivity and be well explained by this theory framework.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) emphasize the intentional awareness of individual’s physical and mental experience with a non-judgmental attitude. MBIs comprise both traditional contemplative practices from a few religions and the contemporary mindfulness approaches that form some cognitive-oriented psychotherapies. In recent years, clinical practitioners have proposed and developed a number of MBIs targeting impulsive individuals’ problematical behaviors. Researches into the effectiveness of these MBIs show significant outcomes among different populations, including attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, substance abusers, adolescents with behavioral problems, and obese people with eating disorder.

From the dual-processing approach, the positive impact of MBIs on impulsivity has two reasons: one is that MBIs can mitigate the action/cognitive impulsivity triggered by the cognitive control system, and the other is that MBIs can lower the affective impulsivity caused by the socioemotional system. More specifically, MBIs attempts to train individuals to be fully "exposed" to their immediate self-experience with positive attitudes, so as to reduce their reward expectation whilst improving the responsiveness to natural reward, and then realizing the adjustment and reshaping of their reward effects. Meanwhile, MBIs can enhance individual’s ability of “decentering” the feeling of stress and negative affect, thus reducing the perception of distress feeling and providing a necessary buffer to avoid impulsive behaviors. More essentially, MBIs-trained individuals are more sensitive to their own introspection and habitual responses, which helps to weaken the automatic driving force in impulsive behaviors. In addition, MBIs strengthen individuals’ cognitive control and inhibitory control, leading to decreases in the relevant impulsive performance in waiting impulsivity and action impulsivity.

Due to differences in processing time and varied directionality between factors driving and controlling impulsivity, MBIs expand the buffer zone between receiving and responding to stimuli, with repeated practice focused on attention and positive attitudes including acceptance and non-response. MBIs not only weaken the motivation of driving factors, but also promotes the effective implementation and participation of controlling factors, thus reducing the confrontation between these two types of components and the interaction of these two factors could then make individual's underlying dynamic system more balanced. To sum up, supported by the dual-processing model and empirical evidence, MBIs can be considered as an effective intervention approach to reduce individual impulsivity.

Key words: mindfulness-based interventions, impulsivity, dual-process theory, driving forces, controlling forces

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