Research Articles

Mindfulness: Age and Gender Differences on a Bosnian Sample

Sabina Alispahic*a, Enedina Hasanbegovic-Anica

Abstract

The goal of this research was to examine age and gender differences in mindfulness on Bosnian general population. The study was conducted on a sample of 441 participants from the general population, from twelve cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a measure of mindfulness we used Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire. Results showed that older participants’ scores were higher than for younger participants for all aspects of mindfulness. There was found a statistically significant difference between the three age groups on the subscales of Acting with awareness F(2, 435) = 7.39, p < .01 and of Non-judging of inner experience F(2, 428) = 5.67, p < .01. We found statistically significant difference for the Acting with awareness between 20-32 age group (M = 28.57, SD = 5.66) and 33-49 age group (M = 31.01, SD = 5.00, t(292) = -3.91, p < .001), and between 20-32 age group and 50+ group (M = 30.14, SD = 5,86, t(290) = -2.32, p < .05). Also, there was a significant difference for the Non-judging between 20-32 age group (M = 24.77, SD = 5.80) and 33-49 age group (M = 26.65, SD = 5.09, t(288) = -2.94, p < .01), and between 20-32 age group and 50+ group (M = 26.49, SD = 4.90, t(287) = -2,71, p < .05). According to the t-test results, there was statistically significant gender difference between the subscales Observing (t(432) = -2.259, p < .05) and Acting with awareness (t(432) = 2.197, p < .05), women scored higher than men on the subscale Observing, while men exhibited higher scores on the subscale Acting with awareness. Results of this research showed that there were found significant age and gender differences for some aspects of mindfulness in the sample of Bosnian general population.

Keywords: mindfulness, age, gender, differences

Psychological Thought, 2017, Vol. 10(1), doi:10.5964/psyct.v10i1.224

Received: 2017-01-14. Accepted: 2017-03-02. Published (VoR): 2017-04-28.

Handling Editors: Marius Drugas, University of Oradea, Oradea, Romania; Stanislava Stoyanova, South-West University "Neofit Rilski", Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

*Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy, Franje Rackog 1, 71000 Sarajevo, Bosnia. E-mail: sabina_alispahic@hotmail.com

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Mindfulness can be defined as the degree of awareness that is achieved by purposefully paying attention to the present moment, without judging it (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Since the launch of the first empirical research conducted on this topic (Kabat-Zinn, 1982) numerous studies have shown the positive effects of increased mindfulness - on life- satisfaction, vitality, self-esteem, empathy, optimism, integrity, or positive affect – and its contribution to reducing the difficulties with emotional dysregulation, depression, neuroticism, rumination, social anxiety, and wandering thoughts (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Dekeyser, Raes, Leijssen, Leysen, & Dewulf, 2008; Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011; Rasmussen & Pidgeon, 2011; Thompson & Waltz, 2007).

The topic of age-differences in mindfulness in general population has received little attention in research (e.g. McCracken, Gauntlett-Gilbert, & Vowles, 2007; Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007). According to Sturgess (2012), the strongest research with implications about mindfulness and gender differences was conducted by Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker (2011), who have found a positive relationship between age and participants’ focus on the present. Authors suggested that “as people get older, they become more present-focused” (Mogilner, Kamvar, & Aaker, 2011, p. 399).

There is also very little research looking at whether males and females report similar or different levels of mindfulness. In most of the existing studies gender differences in mindfulness are not found (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Catak, 2012; De Petrillo, Kaufman, Glass, & Arnkoff, 2009; Feldman, Hayes, Kumar, Greeson, & Laurenceau, 2007; MacKillop & Anderson, 2007; Malcoun, 2008). But, there is some research about gender differences on emotional intensity showing that women generally experience both more positive and negative emotions (e.g. Diener, Sandvik, & Larsen, 1985).

Mindfulness has not been the subject of empirical research in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although it is applied as a technique in psychotherapy practice. Due to the recent war, transition period, poverty, unemployment, poor socio-economic status, people from Bosnian general population are usually focused on events in the past or are burdened by concern for the future, which means that usually a large number of Bosnian residents are not aware of the present moment, which is at the core of mindfulness. Awareness of the present provides insight into persons emotional state, unmet needs, and thus the awareness of own responsibility and possible choices a person can make to improve the quality of life.

Due to the limited research that has been conducted in this area, the goal of this study was to examine age and gender differences in mindfulness on a Bosnian sample. We were interested in mindfulness as a specific type of attention that is non-judgmentally focused on the present moment.

Since past research has shown that older adults have a greater tendency to focus on the present moment (Mogilner et al., 2011; Sturgess, 2012), our prediction is that older participants in Bosnian sample will have higher level of mindfulness. We also hypothesize that females will show higher levels of mindfulness than males, according to the results of previous research (Bryant, 2003; Tamres, Helgeson, & Janicki, 2002).

Method [TOP]

Participants and Design [TOP]

The study was conducted on a sample of 441 participants from Bosnian general population (213 men and 228 women), from twelve cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The age range of participants was from 18 to 65 years, and the average age was M = 39.9 (SD = 13.33). We used a cross-sectional design in which we tested age differences in mindfulness between young (20-32), middle-aged (33-49) and older (50+) participants using one-way ANOVA.

Instruments [TOP]

Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) was developed by Baer, Smith, Lykins, et al. (2008). FFMQ measures five components of mindfulness: observing (“I notice the aromas of things”), describing (“I am good at finding words to describe my feelings”), acting with awareness (“I find myself doing things without paying attention”), nonjudging of inner experience (“I think some of my emotions are bad and or inappropriate and I should not feel them”), and nonreactivity to inner experience (“I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them”). Participants give answer on 39 items on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (very rarely or never true) to 5 (very often or always true). Baer et al. (2008) found an acceptable level of internal consistency within each of the five subfactors, with alpha coefficients ranging from .75 to .91. Alpha coefficients for Bosnian version of FFMQ (see Appendix) that we have used in this research were also satisfactory, ranging from .68 to .84.

Procedure [TOP]

In collection of data we had assistance of psychology students who asked persons they know from general population (their friends, neighbours and family members) to complete FFMQ and a social-demographic questionnaire. Each student was asked to find eight persons from each age group of both sexes. Participation in the survey was voluntary and anonymous.

Results [TOP]

According to the results in Table 1, older participants (33-49 and 50+ age groups) scores were higher than for younger participants for all aspects of mindfulness.

For the total score on FFMQ there was no significant age difference F(2, 426) = 1.801, p = 0.166. There was statistically significant difference between the three age groups on subscales Acting with awareness F(2, 435) = 7.39, p < .01 and Nonjudging of inner experience F(2, 428) = 5.67, p < .01 (Table 2). Although there was statistically significant difference on this subscales, the amount of this difference between groups was small (eta-squared for both subscales was η2 = 0.03). These results showed that in general older participants scored higher on these scales (Table 1).

Table 1

Descriptive Statistics for FFMQ Subscales for Three Age Groups

Scale Age group N M SD Min Max
FFMQ_total 20-32 147 127.86 15.09 90.00 167.00
33-49 140 130.89 13.58 84.00 168.00
50+ 140 130.46 15.32 98.00 172.00
Total 427 129.70 14.72 84.00 172.00
Observing 20-32 149 24.36 5.64 11 38
33-49 146 22.90 5.06 8 37
50+ 143 23.10 6.14 10 38
Total 438 23.46 5.66 8 38
Describing 20-32 149 28.53 6.07 8 40
33-49 146 28.96 5.32 15 40
50+ 143 28.91 5.68 12 40
Total 438 28.80 5.69 8 40
Acting with awareness 20-32 148 28.57 5.65 15 40
33-49 146 31.01 5.00 16 40
50+ 144 30.14 5.85 17 40
Total 438 29.90 5.59 15 40
Nonjudging 20-32 148 24.77 5.80 12 39
33-49 142 26.65 5.09 14 39
50+ 141 26.49 4.90 14 39
Total 431 25.95 5.35 12 39
Nonreactivity 20-32 149 21.87 4.52 7 35
33-49 144 21.39 4.57 7 31
50+ 144 21.90 4.47 8 33
Total 437 21.72 4.52 7 35
Table 2

Results of ANOVA for FFMQ in Three Age Groups

Scale Sum of Squares df Mean Square F p
FFMQ_total 777.827 2, 426 388.913 1.801 .166
Observing 184.524 2, 437 92.262 2.910 .056
Describing 16.230 2, 437 8.115 .250 .779
Acting with awareness 449.401 2, 437 224.701 7.391 .001
Nonjudging 317.557 2, 430 158.779 5.672 .004
Nonreactivity 23.764 2, 436 11.882 .581 .560

We also calculated Tukey HSD post hoc test for multiple comparisons of age groups (Table 3). Results suggested that there was statistically significant difference for the subscale Acting with awareness between 20-32 age group (M = 28.57, SD = 5.66) and 33-49 age group (M = 31.01, SD = 5.00, p < .001), and between 20-32 age group and 50+ group (M = 30.14, SD = 5,86, p < .05). Also, there was a significant difference for the subscale Nonjudging between 20-32 age group (M = 24.77, SD = 5.80) and 33-49 age group (M = 26.65, SD = 5.09, p < .01), and between 20-32 age group and 50+ group (M = 26.49, SD = 4.90, p < .05).

Table 3

Tukey HSD Post Hoc Test for FFMQ Age Differences

Dependent Variable Age (I) Age (J) Mean Difference (I-J) Std. Error p
FFMQ_total 20-32 33-49 -3.02857 1.73531 .190
50+ -2.60714 1.73531 .291
33-49 20-32 3.02857 1.73531 .190
50+ .42143 1.75634 .969
50+ 20-32 2.60714 1.73531 .291
33-49 -.42143 1.75634 .969
Observing 20-32 33-49 1.458 .656 .068
50+ 1.258 .659 .138
33-49 20-32 -1.458 .656 .068
50+ -.201 .662 .951
50+ 20-32 -1.258 .659 .138
33-49 .201 .662 .951
Describing 20-32 33-49 -.429 .664 .795
50+ -.379 .667 .837
33-49 20-32 .429 .664 .795
50+ .050 .671 .997
50+ 20-32 .379 .667 .837
33-49 -.050 .671 .997
Acting with awareness 20-32 33-49 -2.439* .643 .000
50+ -1.565* .645 .042
33-49 20-32 2.439* .643 .000
50+ .875 .648 .368
50+ 20-32 1.565* .645 .042
33-49 -.875 .648 .368
Nonjudging 20-32 33-49 -1.885* .622 .007
50+ -1.719* .623 .017
33-49 20-32 1.885* .622 .007
50+ .166 .629 .963
50+ 20-32 1.719* .623 .017
33-49 -.166 .629 .963
Nonreactivity 20-32 33-49 .477 .528 .639
50+ -.037 .528 .997
33-49 20-32 -.477 .528 .639
50+ -.514 .533 .600
50+ 20-32 .037 .528 .997
33-49 .514 .533 .600

In Table 4 we presented the results of t-test for examining gender differences for FFMQ. According to the results, there was statistically significant gender difference for the subscale Observing (t(432) = -2.259, p < .05) and for the subscale Acting with awareness (t(432) = 2.197, p < .05). Women scored higher than man on the subscale Observing, while men had higher scores on the subscale Acting with awareness.

Table 4

Results of t-Test: Gender Differences for FFMQ

Subscale Gender N M SD t df p ΔM SEΔM
Observing Male 208 22.78 5.687 -2.259 432 .024 -1.221 .541
Female 226 24.00 5.568 -2.257 427.345 .025 -1.221 .541
Describing Male 207 28.48 5.513 -1.020 432 .308 -.561 .550
Female 227 29.04 5.911 -1.023 431.775 .307 -.561 .548
Acting with awareness Male 207 30.50 5.420 2.197 432 .029 1.176 .535
Female 227 29.32 5.701 2.202 431.242 .028 1.176 .534
Nonjudging Male 204 26.27 5.431 .999 425 .318 .517 .517
Female 223 25.76 5.252 .998 418.699 .319 .517 .518
Nonreactivity Male 206 21.69 4.862 -.239 431 .811 -.104 .434
Female 227 21.79 4.169 -.237 405.892 .813 -.104 .437
FFMQ_total Male 200 129.6450 14.23877 -.063 421 .950 -.09043 1.44450
Female 223 129.7354 15.34519 -.063 420.506 .950 -.09043 1.43863

Discussion [TOP]

According to the results of this research, we found that older participants’ scores on FFMQ were higher than for younger participants. Results also showed that there was small but statistically significant difference for the subscales Acting with awareness and Nonjudging of inner experience for 20-32 and 33-49 age groups, and between 20-32 and 50+ age groups.

Results reflect previous research suggesting that older adults demonstrate a higher degree of emotional control (Gross et al., 1997), as well as a greater tendency to focus on the present moment (Mogilner et al., 2011; Sturgess, 2012). Possible explanation for our results concerning the age differences is maturational change/developmental interpretation which posits that as individuals age, they develop increasingly adapt ways of managing their emotions, and therefore are less judging about themselves and others. It means that older adults are able to be more present “here and now”, because they are not interrupted by intensity of their emotions. This is also supported by the results of a longitudinal study of 2.704 participants in four generations of families (Charles, Reynolds, & Gatz, 2001) where they found that negative affect decreased with age, and that older people had a tendency to regulate their emotions more effectively. Savouring is another psychological construct that can be used to explain mindfulness (Sturgess, 2012): because older adults have greater tendency to savour the moment, control emotions, and remain focussed on the present, they tend to be more mindful, which can be one of explanations for our results.

In this research we also wanted to examine gender differences in mindfulness. Results of t-test showed that there was small but statistically significant gender difference for the subscales Observing, where females scored higher than men, and Acting with awareness, where males had higher scores than their counterparts. This result is consistent with previous data (for example, Sturgess, 2012). Gender differences could be explained with different cognitive functioning of females and males. According to the previous research, women in general are much better in observing details than men, and also in multitasking - doing several things at the same time, while men in general having a tendency to focus on one task at the time, and be more aware while doing it (Stoet, O’Connor, Conner, & Laws, 2013).

Our study was the preliminary research about age and gender differences in mindfulness in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so we hope that it will be only the beginning of empirical research about this topic. This study also has some limitations. For example, we collected self-report measures of mindfulness. Despite this, our study showed for the first time in our country some important evidence about age and gender differences in mindfulness that should be considered in future research. Our results revealed that in Bosnian general population, older adults were more mindful and that there were gender differences in mindfulness. These results provide basis for more extensive future research about mindfulness not only in general but also in clinical population.

Funding [TOP]

The authors have no funding to report.

Competing Interests [TOP]

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Acknowledgments [TOP]

We are grateful to our dear collegues from Department of psychology, Aida Muheljic, Nina Hadziahmetovic and Đenita Tuce for their help in preparing the final manuscript of this paper.

References [TOP]

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Appendix: English and Bosnian Version of the FFMQ [TOP] [TOP]

English version [TOP]

Please rate each of the following statements using the scale provided. Write the number in the blank that best describes your own opinion of what is generally true for you.

1 2 3 4 5
Never or very rarely Rarely true Sometimes Often Very often or
always true

____1. When I’m walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body moving.

____2. I’m good at finding words to describe my feelings.

____3. I criticize myself for having irrational or inappropriate emotions.

____4. I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them.

____5. When I do things, my mind wanders off and I’m easily distracted.

____6. When I take a shower or bath, I stay alert to the sensations of water on my body.

____7. I can easily put my beliefs, opinions, and expectations into words.

____8. I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing because I’m daydreaming, worrying, or otherwise distracted.

____9. I watch my feelings without getting lost in them.

____10. I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling.

____11. I notice how foods and drinks affect my thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions.

____12. It’s hard for me to find the words to describe what I’m thinking.

____13. I am easily distracted.

____14. I believe some of my thoughts are abnormal or bad and I shouldn’t think that way.

____15. I pay attention to sensations, such as the wind in my hair or sun on my face.

____16. I have trouble thinking of the right words to express how I feel about things

____17. I make judgments about whether my thoughts are good or bad.

____18. I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.

____19. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I “step back” and am aware of the thought or image without getting taken over by it.

____20. I pay attention to sounds, such as clocks ticking, birds chirping, or cars passing.

____21. In difficult situations, I can pause without immediately reacting.

____22. When I have a sensation in my body, it’s difficult for me to describe it because I can’t find the right words.

____23. It seems I am “running on automatic” without much awareness of what I’m doing.

____24. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I feel calm soon after.

____25. I tell myself that I shouldn’t be thinking the way I’m thinking.

____26. I notice the smells and aromas of things.

____27. Even when I’m feeling terribly upset, I can find a way to put it into words.

____28. I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.

____29. When I have distressing thoughts or images I am able just to notice them without reacting.

____30. I think some of my emotions are bad or inappropriate and I shouldn’t feel them.

____31. I notice visual elements in art or nature, such as colors, shapes, textures, or patterns of light and shadow.

____32. My natural tendency is to put my experiences into words.

____33. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I just notice them and let them go.

____34. I do jobs or tasks automatically without being aware of what I’m doing.

____35. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I judge myself as good or bad, depending what the thought/image is about.

____36. I pay attention to how my emotions affect my thoughts and behavior.

____37. I can usually describe how I feel at the moment in considerable detail.

____38. I find myself doing things without paying attention.

____39. I disapprove of myself when I have irrational ideas.

Subscales scoring information (R denotes items that are reverse scored):

Observe items:

1, 6, 11, 15, 20, 26, 31, 36

Describe items:

2, 7, 12R, 16R, 22R, 27, 32, 37

Act with Awareness items:

5R, 8R, 13R, 18R, 23R, 28R, 34R, 38R

Nonjudge items:

3R, 10R, 14R, 17R, 25R, 30R, 35R, 39R

Nonreact items:

4, 9, 19, 21, 24, 29, 33

Bosnian version [TOP]

Molimo Vas da odgovorite na svaku od tvrdnji koristeći dolje navedenu skalu. Upišite broj odgovora koji Vas najbolje opisuje na crtu pored svake tvrdnje.

1 2 3 4 5
Nikad, ili vrlo rijetko Rijetko Ponekad Često Vrlo često ili uvijek

____1. Kada hodam, namjerno primjećujem pokrete svoga tijela.

____2. Dobar sam u pronalaženju riječi kojima mogu opisati svoje emocije.

____3. Kritikujem sebe zbog svojih iracionalnih ili neprimjerenih emocija.

____4. Opažam svoja osjećanja i emocije bez da reagujem na njih.

____5. Kada nešto radim, moje misli odlutaju, i lako me je omesti.

____6. Kada se tuširam, svjestan sam kapljica vode na svom tijelu.

____7. Svoja vjerovanja, mišljenja, i očekivanja lako mogu sročiti u riječi.

____8. Ne obraćam pažnju na ono što radim jer sanjarim, brinem, ili mi nešto drugo privlači pažnju.

____9. Opažam svoja osjećanja bez da se u njima izgubim.

____10. Kažem sebi da se ne bi trebao osjećati onako kako se osjećam.

____11. Primjećujem kako hrana i piće utječu na moje misli, tjelesne senzacije, i emocije.

____12. Teško mi je pronaći riječi koje bi opisale šta mislim.

____13. Lako se dekoncentrišem.

____14. Vjerujem da su neke od mojih misli nenormalne ili loše, i da ne bih trebao misliti na taj način.

____15. Obraćam pažnju na senzacije kao što je vjetar u mojoj kosi, ili sunčeve zrake na mom licu.

____16. Imam problem u pronalaženju pravih riječi koje bi opisale kako se osjećam u vezi nekih stvari.

____17. Procjenjujem da li su moje misli dobre ili loše.

____18. Teško mi je da se fokusiram na ono što se trenutno dešava.

____19. Kada mi se jave uznemirujuće misli ili slike “odmaknem se”, i budem ih svjestan a da me ne obuzmu.

____20. Obraćam pažnju na zvukove poput kucanja sata, cvrkuta ptica, ili prolaska auta.

____21. U teškim situacijama, mogu zastati a da ne reagujem na prvu.

____22. Kad imam neku tjelesnu senzaciju teško mi je opisati, jer ne mogu pronaći prave riječi.

____23. Čini mi se da se automatski ponašam, bez svijesti o tome što radim.

____24. Kada imam uznemirujuće misli ili slike, brzo se smirim.

____25. Govorim sebi da ne bih trebao razmišljati na način na koji razmišljam.

____26. Primjećujem mirise i arome stvari.

____27. Čak i kada sam jako uznemiren, pronađem način da to opišem riječima.

____28. Obavljam aktivnosti a da na njih ne obraćam pažnju.

____29. Kada imam uznemirujuće misli ili slike, mogu ih primijetiti a da ne reagujem.

____30. Smatram da su neke od mojih emocija loše ili neprimjerene i da ih ne trebam osjećati.

____31. Primijećujem vizualne elemente u umjetnosti, ili prirodi, poput boja, oblika, tekstura, ili obrazaca svijetla ili sjenki.

____32. Imam prirodnu tendenciju da svoja iskustva pretočim u riječi.

____33. Kad imam uznemirujuće misli i slike, samo ih primijetim, i onda ih pustim.

____34. Obavljam poslove ili zadatke automatski, bez da sam potpuno svjestan šta radim.

____35. Kada imam uznemirujuće misli ili slike, procjenjujem sebe kao dobru ili lošu osobu, u zavisnosti od toga kakve su te misli ili slike.

____36. Obraćam pažnju na to kako moje emocije utječu na moje misli i ponašanje.

____37. Obično mogu detaljno opisati kako se trenutno osjećam.

____38. Obavljam aktivnosti a da ne obraćam pažnju na njih.

____39. Ne odobravam sebi da imam iracionalne ideje.

About the Authors [TOP]

Sabina Alispahic, PhD is assistant professor, working at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo. She is a gestalt psychotherapist under supervision. Her research interests are: clinical psychology, psychotherapy, positive psychology.

Enedina Hasanbegovic-Anic, PhD is associate professor, working at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo. She is a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist under supervision. Her research interests are: psychotherapy, child and adolescence clinical psychology, drug abuse prevention.