For some people, it can take a lot of time and effort to understand what mindfulness is and how to effectively practice it.
The concept of mindfulness, of being fully aware and present in the moment but without any value judgments, worrying, or rumination, can be a tough one to grasp.
I apologize in advance to these people, because the topic of this writing excursion may be even more difficult to wrap your head around: measuring mindfulness.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking: “How in the world do you measure mindfulness?”
It seems like such an ephemeral concept that trying to take a ruler or a scale to it would be inherently futile. How do you measure the extent to which you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings?
This question posed a challenge for researchers in more ways than one, but a few intrepid souls dared to face the challenge head on. Consequently, we have some idea of how to go about measuring presence of mind.
First Challenge: State vs. Trait Mindfulness
The state of mindfulness measures may be considered as an art that is still in its infancy, partly due to the problem of state vs. trait mindfulness (Hill & Labbé, 2014). Without getting too lost in the weeds, the general idea of the state vs. trait problem is that mindfulness can be considered both a state and a trait (Medvedev, Krägeloh, Narayanan, & Siegert, 2017).
A state refers to a fluid and short-term mindset or frame of reference that we can quickly in and out of, sometimes by force of will. It is a flexible condition that influences how you perceive the world around you. Examples of other states include feeling hopeful, being interested or curious, and feeling certain about something in your life.
Traits are more permanent facets of personality, characteristics that are difficult to change and likely have some basis in genetics. A trait is often an integral part of what makes you who you are. For instance, psychological traits include extraversion, self-esteem, perfectionism, and impulsivity. While there are some forms of therapy or behavior modification that can affect traits, they generally do not change without concerted effort.
Regarding mindfulness, state mindfulness refers to a temporary condition in which an individual is aware of their thoughts and feelings and able to stay present when distractions arise.
Trait mindfulness is the more permanent ability to enter a mindful perspective at will, in which an individual recognizes what they are thinking and feeling, accepts them without judgment, and keeps the focus on being present.
Unique Challenges in Measuring Mindfulness
When attempting to measure mindfulness, the difficulties faced depend on whether state or trait mindfulness is the target.
State Measurement Challenges
When measuring state mindfulness, the challenge originates from the fact that measurement necessarily occurs after the experience.
If there is a way to measure mindfulness in the moment, it certainly has not been discovered yet.
The idea of stopping to measure how mindful you are in a specific moment is anathema to the practice of mindfulness. It is impossible to be both present and fully aware of your experience while taking a survey on your current level of mindfulness. As such, gauging the level of mindfulness experienced must occur after the fact, by having the individual recall their state of mind when practicing mindfulness.
This problem is not unique in psychological measurement – many psychological states suffer from the same post-experience measurement problem – but it is still a challenge nonetheless.
Due to the reliance on measuring mindfulness via survey, it also faces another challenge of many other psychological phenomena: reliance on self-reporting. Humans are generally not highly accurate when recalling events, let alone their thoughts and feelings during an event.
Our memory can play tricks on us, especially if the event we are recalling is far behind us or too similar to events we experience in our everyday lives. Additionally, our current mood or frame of mind can impact how we view our experiences, even fairly recent ones.
Self-report measurements also rely on the individual in question being truthful in their responses. While a certain amount of responses to a survey will always be purposely false, there is also an element of social desirability involved. We frequently answer questions with an idea of what the socially desirable or at least socially acceptable answer is, and we may consciously or unconsciously shift our responses in this direction.
While this does not mean that self-report measures are useless, it does mean we should use caution when considering scores on psychological scales without more objective and quantifiable measurements to bolster our confidence in these scores.
Trait Measurement Challenges
Like state measurements of mindfulness, trait measurement also faces the same challenges inherent in a self-report measure.
In addition to these challenges, trait mindfulness is also faced with the obstacle of measuring a psychological construct that manifests in the moment. In other words, it is difficult to assign a score to a trait that is based on the ability to enter a state.
If it seems difficult to measure mindfulness as a state, it may be even more difficult to accurately capture a person’s general tendency to move into that state.
While these challenges have proved daunting for mindfulness research, there are several scales and questionnaires that have been developed in spite of the obstacles. One popular conceptualization of awareness is described below, followed by descriptions of some mindfulness scales that are popular in psychological research and clinical practice.
Wheel of Awareness
The Wheel of Awareness is a model of the construct of awareness that some have found very helpful when considering the issue of how to measure mindfulness, of which awareness is a major facet (Siegel, 2007; 2014).
This model has a core, or “hub”, of facets related to awareness (and, in turn, mindfulness). These facets include:
These six facets form the foundation of the wheel of awareness, with four “spokes.”
These spokes include:
- First five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing)
- Sixth sense (interior of the body)
- Seventh sense (mental activities)
- Eighth sense (interconnectedness)
This model is based on the six facets as representative of the experience of awareness, while the spokes outline the things we know that we can become aware of. These phrases and terms, including awareness, open, mental activities, and interconnectedness will feel familiar when considering the mindfulness measures described below, as the wheel is a relatively comprehensive model of the current view on the potential of mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness is one way that we can move past the hub and get to the spokes, by recognizing and accepting the stimuli brought into consciousness through one of these senses. This model may be helpful to consider after you engage in a mindfulness practice and reflect back on your experience, as several of the measures described here can help you through.
For more information on the wheel of awareness, click here.
MAAS: The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale
The most popular scale for measuring mindfulness in positive psychology is the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, developed by Kirk Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan in 2003.
The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (or MAAS) treats mindfulness as a trait that involves what the authors conceptualize as the two components of consciousness: awareness and attention.
Awareness is described by Brown and Ryan as a sort of “radar” that operates in the background of our minds and continually scans both the environment outside of ourselves and the state of our internal environment (2003). It’s what allows us to notice things around us without focusing exclusively on them.
Alternatively, attention refers to our ability to focus our awareness on a specific stimulus or stimuli, allowing for a limited but more intense appraisal of our current experience (2003).
This conceptualization of mindfulness purposefully excludes any reference to attitudes, motivations, or moods, leaving the trait of mindfulness neutral concerning other constructs like happiness or well-being.
The MAAS measures an individual’s tendency to enter a state of mindfulness through the individual’s frequency of having certain experiences related to mindfulness and mindlessness, with statements such as:
“I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present”
“I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lose touch with what I am doing right now to get there” (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
Scores on these statements are then combined to create an overall score of mindfulness, with higher agreement indicating a lesser tendency to enter into a mindful state and a lower score indicating a greater tendency towards mindfulness.
This measure was found to be a good measure of mindfulness, with high reliability and moderate-to-strong correlations with the related constructs of reflection, rumination, and self-consciousness, as well as an existing measure of mindfulness.
Researchers generally agree that the MAAS is a valid and reliable method of measuring mindfulness, and it is both easy to score and interpret.
If you’re interested in completing the MAAS, you can find it here.
Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire
The next most utilized measure of mindfulness is the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, a trait mindfulness measure developed by Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, and Toney in 2006.
The five facets the authors refer to can be described as follows:
- Nonreactivity to inner experiences.
This facet refers to an individual’s ability to remain calm and objective when faced with thoughts or feelings that may usually elicit emotional responses.
- Observing/noticing/attending to sensations/perceptions/thoughts/feelings.
This facet is self-explanatory, covering an individual’s tendency to be aware of and recognize their thoughts and feelings.
- Acting with awareness/automatic pilot/concentration/nondistraction.
The third facet concerns an individual’s ability to stay present and aware in the moment, while ignoring or sidestepping potential distractions.
- Describing/labeling with words.
Facet four refers to an individual’s capacity to recognize and label the thoughts and feelings they experience.
- Nonjudging of experience.
The final facet involves the tendency towards objective consideration of thoughts and feelings, and the rejection of assigning value to these thoughts and feelings.
The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) measures these facets with statements like:
- “Usually when I have distressing thoughts or images, I ‘step back’ and am aware of the thought or image without getting taken over by it” (Nonreactivity facet).
- “I notice visual elements in art or nature, such as colors, shapes, textures, or patterns of light and shadow” (Observing facet).
- “I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lose touch with what I am doing right now to get there” (“Actaware” facet; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006).
Respondents rate their agreement that these statements represent their personality or general tendencies on a scale from 1 = never or very rarely true to 5 = very often or always true (Baer et al., 2006).
This scale has also generally been considered valid and reliable by other researchers, and scores on this measure were found to correlate highly with the related constructs of openness to experience, emotional intelligence, and self-compassion (Baer et al., 2006).
If you’d like to see your score on the FFMQ, follow this link.
Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale -Revised
The Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale was first developed in 2005 by Kumar, Feldman, and Hayes. It was subsequently reviewed and revised in 2007 by Feldman, Hayes, Kumar, Greeson, and Laurenceau into the Cognitive and Affective Scale of Mindfulness-Revised (CAMS-R).
The CAMS-R takes a multi-dimensional view of mindfulness as a broad construct that includes four components:
- Acceptance (Feldman et al., 2007)
This scale measures trait mindfulness by agreement with 12 statements pertaining to each of the four sub-components, such as
“It is easy for me to concentrate on what I am doing,”
“I can usually describe how I feel at the moment in considerable detail,”
“I am able to pay close attention to one thing for a long period of time” (Feldman et al., 2007).
Some items are reverse-scored (“I am preoccupied by the future,” “I am easily distracted,” and “I am preoccupied by the past.”), but the rest are scored in the same manner that they are posed, on a scale from 1 = rarely/not at all, to 4 = almost always. Higher scores in each subscale represent higher levels of each subcomponent, which provide an overall score of trait mindfulness when taken together.
Like the FFMQ, this measure also correlates as expected with mindfulness as measured by the MAAS (positively), worry (negatively), rumination (negatively), and cognitive flexibility (positively), among other constructs (Feldman et al., 2007).
The consensus on the revised CAMS is that it effectively captures a multi-component measurement of mindfulness and can be relied upon to relate with other measures as expected.
If you’d like to test your own score with the CAMS-R, use this link.
Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory
Researchers Walach, Buchheld, Buttenmüller, Kleinknecht, and Schmidt created the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory in 2006 when they found that no other measure of mindfulness captured the construct as they conceptualized it.
Their view of mindfulness can be summarized as a process of regulating one’s attention with the aim of approaching experiences with an open and nonjudgmental awareness, as well as curiosity and openness to the experience (Walach et al., 2006). This perspective is similar to other views on mindfulness, but encompasses more of the mindful experience than some other measures, especially with the addition of curiosity as an important piece of mindfulness.
The Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) measures mindfulness via 14 statements rated on how well they describe the respondent, from 1 = rarely, to 4 = almost always (Walach et al., 2006).
Example statements include:
- I sense my body, whether eating, cooking, cleaning or talking.
- I see my mistakes and difficulties without judging them.
- In difficult situations, I can pause without immediately reacting.
- I experience moments of inner peace and ease, even when things get hectic and stressful.
The validity of this scale was confirmed through its moderate to strong correlations with measures of self-awareness and self-knowledge.
The authors note that this scale should not be split up into subscales, but the overall score should be considered a general representation of trait mindfulness. There may be multiple dimensions to mindfulness, but they are interrelated and, using this measure, they cannot be teased apart.
A longer version of the FMI exists in a 30-item scale, but evidence shows that the shorter 14-item scale will suffice for use in research and clinical practice.
If you’d like to test your own mindfulness score according to the FMI, you can find it here.
Solloway Mindfulness Survey
The Solloway Mindfulness Survey is not necessarily a trait mindfulness measure, nor is it a state mindfulness measure. It falls somewhere in between the two poles on the spectrum from state to trait.
This survey was developed to measure mindfulness from the perspective of mindfulness as a skill set or capacity to practice, a semi-state in that it is changeable, but more trait-like in that it is relatively stable unless knowledge and practice is actively pursued.
This Solloway Mindfulness Survey (SMS) was created in 2007 by Solloway and Fisher, Jr. for the purpose of tracking the progress of mindfulness students as they learn about mindfulness and begin to engage in the practice.
The SMS consists of 30 items that the respondent provides an indication of their agreement with, on a scale from 1 = absolutely disagree, to 8 = absolutely agree.
Some example items include:
- I notice that I experience a kind of happiness that’s different.
- I observe the way things constantly change from moment to moment.
- Mindfulness teaches me to experience the world in an entirely new way.
- Mindfulness makes me feel thankful for things I usually take for granted.
The responses to these items are added together to calculate a total score. The higher the score, the more effective knowledge and experience the respondent has relative to mindfulness.
This is a great way to track your progress or a client’s progress through a long-term attempt to be more mindful. You can take this survey once before beginning a mindfulness practice (or a new mindfulness practice, or a more intensive mindfulness practice, etc.), and continue to complete it at periodic points in time throughout your mindfulness journey.
The changes between the first survey score and the last can give you an idea of how much you are learning about and connecting with the practice of mindfulness. If you are giving your full attention to the schedule of mindfulness practice you set for yourself, you should see an automatic increase in your score as well.
To learn more about the Solloway Mindfulness Survey and decide whether it would be helpful for you or your clients, see Solloway and Fisher, Jr.’s paper introducing and validating this survey (Solloway & Fisher, Jr., 2007; cited in the references list below).
If you would like to use this survey, you can find it here.
Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire
The Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (ATQ) is quite a bit different from the mindfulness measures outlined here, in that it measures automatic negative thoughts related to depression. This scale could be considered a measure of mindlessness as opposed to mindfulness.
It was developed by Hollon and Kendall in 1980, making it the oldest measure described in this post. They noticed a lack of attention to the extent that cognitive processes change in individuals suffering from depression, and created the ATQ to address this issue.
The ATQ measures how cognitive processes are disrupted in depressed individuals, especially the disruptions that stem from the inability to suppress or regulate automatic thoughts that are negative in tone or distressing in some way.
There are 30 items in the ATQ, including:
- My life’s not going the way I want it to.
- What’s the matter with me?
- There must be something wrong with me.
- I can’t finish anything.
Respondents rate how often they experience these upsetting thoughts on a scale from 1 = not at all, to 5 = all the time.
If you suffer from depression and would like to get an estimate of how much you struggle with automatic negative thoughts, you can find the ATQ in this packet on page 45.
How to Measure Present Moment Awareness
We’ve discussed the many measures of trait mindfulness and one measure of what could be considered trait mindlessness, but we are still left with the question of how to measure state mindfulness.
This is a tricky area, as noted earlier. However, it is certainly possible.
The two state mindfulness measures described below both approach the measurement of state mindfulness as a sort of reflection on a recent session of mindfulness practice. The consideration of respondents is purposefully limited to a recent event in order to ensure that the measure captures a particular state instead of an individual’s tendency towards mindfulness.
It is important to only consider one mindfulness practice when measuring state mindfulness, as this construct is intended to capture the fleeting and ultimately temporary state of mind that mindfulness practice evokes (Medvedev et al., 2017).
If you are interested in finding out the general level of mindfulness you experienced during a recent mindfulness practice session, check out the three scales described below. For maximum measurement validity, try to complete these scales as soon as possible after a mindfulness session so your experience is fresh.
Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale
This scale was designed specifically to answer the question of how to measure mindfulness when described as present moment awareness and acceptance. The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale was developed in 2008 by researchers Cardaciotto, Herbert, Forman, Moitra, and Farrow.
The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHLMS) focuses on mindfulness as a bidimensional construct, composed of present-moment awareness and acceptance of the present state. Some research has suggested that these two components are strong and independent factors of mindfulness, and thus should be considered two components for the purpose of measuring mindfulness.
This scale consists of 20 items rated on a scale of 1 = never, and 5 = very often. Respondents are instructed to indicate how often they experience the phenomena described in these items. A higher overall score indicates a higher level of state mindfulness, while a higher score in either subscale (present-moment awareness and acceptance) indicates a higher level of either present-moment awareness or acceptance, respectfully.
Some sample items from the PHLMS include:
- When talking with other people, I am aware of their facial and body expressions.
- When I walk outside, I am aware of smells or how the air feels against my face.
- If there is something I don’t want to think about, I’ll try many things to get it out of my mind.
- When talking with other people, I am aware of the emotions I am experiencing (Cardaciotto et al., 2008).
Through scale development and validation, Cardaciotto and colleagues found that this measurement of mindfulness correlated with the MAAS (positively) and with symptoms and signs of psychopathology (negatively), as expected. The PHLMS was also validated using another sample and found to be both a reliable and valid scale for measuring mindfulness as they describe it, although they recommended it more strongly for research than use in clinical psychology at the time of publication.
To get an idea of what your score would be on the PHLMS, click on this link to find a copy of the scale and instructions for completing it.
State Mindfulness Scale
This scale, one of the scales intended to measure state mindfulness, was created by Tanay and Bernstein in 2013 and has been cited in positive psychological research. The State Mindfulness Scale (SMS) was designed to address the lack of state mindfulness measurements in psychological literature, and is based off the MAAS (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
The creators of the SMS designed the scale to reflect a conceptualization of mindfulness as a two-component construct, comprised of:
(1) Attention self-regulation relative to one’s immediate experience, which facilitates increased recognition of present thoughts and feelings;
(2) An orientation to the present that involves curiosity, openness, and acceptance (Tanay & Bernstein, 2013)
This conceptualization reflects a mixture of the traditional Buddhist perspective and more modern ideas about mindfulness. Most current measures of mindfulness consider it a unidimensional trait, or a trait that is whole by itself.
In contrast, the traditional Buddhist perspective on mindfulness involves five qualities:
- Perceptual sensitivity to stimuli
- Deliberate attention to the present moment
- Intimacy or closeness to one’s subjective experience
Tanay and Bernstein created a measure that touches on both philosophies, intended to satisfy both scientists and traditional practitioners and teachers of mindfulness meditation.
The SMS contains 23 statements for respondents to rate their agreement on in terms of a limited period of time, including these sample items:
- I tried to pay attention to pleasant and unpleasant sensations.
- I noticed various sensations caused by my surroundings (e.g., heat, coolness, the wind on my face).
- I changed my body posture and paid attention to the physical process of moving.
The SMS did not correlate strongly with the MAAS since it is meant to capture state mindfulness instead of trait mindfulness, but it did correlate strongly with the Toronto Mindfulness Scale, another measure of state mindfulness (Tanay & Bernstein, 2013).
This scale may be particularly beneficial if you would like to measure your level of mindfulness in a particular recent mindfulness session. To learn more about the SMS or to give it a try, follow this link for more information.
Toronto Mindfulness Scale
The only other state mindfulness measure on this list is the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS). This scale is one of the earliest mindfulness scales based on mindfulness as a state. It was developed in 2006 by Lau and his fellow researchers to measure mindfulness in those actively practicing it.
They based their scale on the conceptualization of mindfulness as “an intentional, reflective style of introspection or self-observation that…differs from concentrative meditation” in that the focus of attention is unrestricted (Lau et al., 2006, p. 1448).
The TMS consists of 2 subscales, the curiosity subscale and the decentering subscale. Altogether, the TMS includes 13 statements rated on a scale from 0 = not at all, to 4 = very much.
These are a few examples of items on the TMS:
- I was curious about what I might learn about myself by taking notice of how I react to certain thoughts, feelings or sensations.
- I was more invested in just watching my experiences as they arose, than in figuring out what they could mean.
- I was curious about what I might learn about myself by just taking notice of what my attention gets drawn to (Lau et al., 2006).
As the authors expected, the curiosity subscale was related to absorption, internal awareness, and self-consciousness, while the decentering subscale was related to awareness of surroundings, self-awareness, and openness to experience. These correlations provide evidence that the TMS measures what it is intended to measure.
This scale may be most helpful to those who would like to get an idea of their mindfulness level during a recent mindfulness practice. To give the TMS a try, click here.
A Take Home Message
Unlike some of our other posts, this one does not prescribe “homework” or push active participation with this content. Practicing mindfulness is a very personal experience, and you should only proceed with using these scales if you are prepared to reflect, consider and truthfully answer the questions involved.
However, discouraging our readers from trying something new that may contribute meaningfully towards your mindfulness practice or that of your clients is avoided here.
If you are curious about any of the measurements outlined above, please give one scale a try. You may learn something new about yourself and your ability to enter a state of mindfulness.
At the very least, you will get an idea of how pervasive mindfulness practice has been in your life, and to what extent you are engaging in mindfulness through regular practice.
As is the case with so many tips, techniques, and exercises we write about, the real questions here are:
(1) What do you have to gain by giving it a shot
(2) What harm can come about from trying it out?
From where I’m standing, I can see a plethora of potential benefits and an utter lack of possible negative consequences stemming from checking these scales out.
What do you think? Will you choose a scale and give it a try, whether for use by you personally or by your client(s)? Feel free to post your scores or comment about your experience in the comments section below.
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- Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2062
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Author: Courtney Ackerman