Mindfulness programs are increasingly popular on college campuses in the US, yet little is known about college students’ perceptions and beliefs about mindfulness: its origins, how it is learned, its functions, and practitioners. Using methods from Cultural Consensus Theory (CCT), the present study examined whether a cultural consensus on mindfulness exists among this group and what the substantive content of that consensus might be.
College-attending young adults aged 18–25 (Study 1, N = 275—convenience sample; Study 2, N = 210—national sample) completed questionnaires on beliefs about mindfulness, exposure to mindfulness, and demographics. Data were analyzed using a CCT-derived Bayesian cognitive psychometric model. Hypotheses for Study 2 were pre-registered.
Young adults converged on a cultural consensus about mindfulness, and the substantive content was replicated across both studies. Participants consensually agreed that mindfulness is Buddhist in origin; is both spiritual (but not religious) and secular; can be an antidote to suffering and gives one a competitive edge in business; and is practiced more by women, less by Conservatives. They also viewed mindfulness as a practice that people their age can learn, as a universal practice, and as not limited to older, wealthy, or White people. Prior exposure to mindfulness was related to more agreement with this consensus.
The beliefs about mindfulness identified suggest an American cultural consensus amongst young adults that views mindfulness as accessible, learnable, able to relieve suffering, more of interest to women and less to Conservatives, and incorporating both secular and spiritual origins and aims.