A Norwegian military aviation crew who participated in a mindfulness intervention demonstrated an increased sense of fellowship following the training. Crew members cited a host of interpersonal effects, such as greater unity, communication, and connection. The findings were published in the International Journal of Aerospace Psychology.
Mindfulness describes a non-judgmental awareness and attention to the present and is suggested to promote positive mental health. Workplaces have implemented mindfulness-based training (MBT) to reduce employee stress and improve well-being. While the individual effects of MBT have been widely explored, study authors Anders Meland and his team note that less is known about the interpersonal effects of training.
Meland and his colleagues designed a study to explore whether MBT would lead to prosocial benefits among a military aviation crew. Since positive team dynamics and collaboration are exceedingly important for flight safety, MBT might be a helpful addition to team training among aviation crews.
A mindfulness-based training was administered among a Norwegian aviation helicopter crew that included 19 flight crew members and 13 aircraft technicians. The participants were between the ages of 20 and 50 and had between 2 and 26 years of experience in military aviation. The MBT, based on the widely known eight-week Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programme (MSRP), was facilitated in a group setting by two instructors and spread out over four months. The program involved daily 25-minute meditation sessions on workdays, as well as lectures every two weeks that were followed by focus groups where participants shared their experiences and reflections. Participants were additionally encouraged to transfer their mindfulness skills into their daily activities.
Five months following the intervention, the aviation crew members were interviewed in person to discuss their experiences with the MBT. During interviews, the crew members had the opportunity to speak freely and were then asked specific questions related to mindfulness. Importantly, the participants were never probed to discuss social or interpersonal effects of the training.
Three researchers coded the interview transcripts and identified prominent themes. It was found that 30 of the 42 participants brought up prosocial effects of the training, and the researchers focused the rest of their analysis on this 71% of the sample. These participants mentioned improvements in unity, connection, trust, rapport, and openness as a result of the intervention — terms the study authors grouped under the concept “sense of fellowship.”
There were three main changes that appeared to be responsible for this improved sense of fellowship. Participants noted that an increased awareness of their own thoughts and feelings helped them be more attentive to others. Being more attuned to others led to a better relationship with team members, and greater reflection helped them respond more favorably in social situations. There were also five behavioral aspects that seemed to encourage a sense of fellowship — more direct communication, increased patience, decreased expressions of anger, greater calmness, and increased acceptance. Finally, certain contextual aspects stood out as important — the group setting, shared experiences, doing something new together, and sitting together in silence.
Meland and his colleagues say that these results are meaningful considering that the MBT placed no emphasis on the social benefits of the program and the crew members were never prompted to discuss interpersonal benefits during the interviews. The findings point to the importance of incorporating group sessions during mindfulness-based training when hoping to improve relationships among attendees.
“While group effects could be gained through a range of interventions with a plenary design, the current study points to a few contextual characteristics that may be specific to MBT. Sitting in silence and doing mental training activities systematically in synchrony is not a common ingredient in interventions,” the researchers say, noting that this group component may be what makes MBT particularly beneficial to social relationships in the workplace.
The study, “A Sense of Fellowship: Mindfulness Improves Experienced Interpersonal Benefits and Prosociality in A Military Aviation Unit”, was authored by Anders Meland, Elena Hoebeke, Anne Marte Pensgaard, Vivianne Fonne, Anthony Wagstaff, and Christian Gaden Jensen.