Mind Your Expectations: Exploring the Roles of Suggestion and Intention in Mindfulness Training

Norman A S Farb


Mindfulness training (MT) has received increasing recognition for its therapeutic benefits in a variety of clinical contexts. Despite acknowledgement that MT effects are predicated upon the development of both mindful attention and intention, research on MT mechanisms has focused chiefly upon attentional effects. By contrast, hypnosis research has focused explicitly on suggestion techniques for cultivating beneficial therapeutic expectations. Comparing similarities between mindfulness and hypnosis techniques, this paper explores mechanisms of suggestion tacitly employed in mindfulness interventions. Distinctions between mindfulness meditation and hypnotic induction are then used to identify a form of intentionality that is unique to MT, including candidate markers of mindful intention that may help to explain mindfulness’ salutary effects. Finally, the idea of changing intentions during MT is discussed, generating suggestions for how best to monitor the interaction between expectation and attentional practice when studying mindfulness interventions. Studies of intention and expectation in MT could help to determine: i) the degree to which MT benefits are driven by expectation effects rather than changes to attention, ii) how to best motivate the development of mindful attention in therapeutic interventions, and iii) what factors predict the generalization of mindfulness techniques to improve emotion regulation. By acknowledging that suggestion may be important for cultivating mindful intentions, it may be possible to deepen our understanding of how to optimally deliver mindfulness training and improve participant well-being.


Meditation; Mindfulness; Attention; Hypnosis; Intention; Expectation; Expectancy; Suggestion; MBSR; MBCT

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The Journal of Mind–Body Regulation