In June 2013, I gave my “stress confession” at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Find out why I changed my mind about stress, and why embracing stress is more important than reducing stress.
Watch the video, and check out the studies I described in the talk, below:
Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677.
Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: Reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(3), 417.
Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American journal of public health, (0), e1-e7.

My fall 2011 Stanford University course “How to Think Like a Psychologist” is now available as a series of free, downloadable videos through iTunes university.

In this fun course, I invited my favorite psychology and neuroscience researchers at Stanford to talk about their work and what it means for everyday life and real-world problems. Each class starts with a 45-min lecture by the guest speaker, followed by about 30 minutes of Q&A from myself and course participants. I had a great time grilling these amazing scientists about everything from politics to education, parenting, shopping, and the scientific process. You’ll even hear a few personal stories they’ve never shared in public before!

Featured speakers include: Chris Bryan, Philippe Goldin, James Gross, Bridgette Martin Hard, Brian Knutson, and Greg Walton. My special thanks to these psychologists for agreeing to let us share their talks with the world. (Several speakers declined, citing a “bad hair day” and other concerns. Oh well.)

Check out the full course at iTunes.

And for more details about my psychology classes that are open to the general public, visit Stanford Continuing Studies.


San Francisco Public Radio did a lovely 1-hr show on the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The piece features the founder of CCARE, the scientists who are studying compassion, as well as one of my compassion cultivation courses, and stories from students in it.

You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the transcript here.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts:

Deborah Defilippo heard about CCARE when she attended the 2010 discussion between scientists and the Dalai Lama. Researchers talked about the health benefits of meditation.

“I am, I guess you could say I’m a type A, high achieving person,” DeFilippo says. “And I’m now catching myself when someone in front of me is driving below the speed limit, saying the phrases that are in almost every single meditation practice that Kelly has. And that is, you say for each individual and yourself and the world, ‘May you be happy. May you be free from pain and suffering. And may you experience joy and peace.’ …It’s like taking a deep breath and a lot of calm does instill within me.”

Stanford’s CCARE program has its critics. Some worry this type of secular practice will lose something, and perhaps lack substance. Others say the aspirations of CCARE – to make a more compassionate world  — are too idealistic. They question how much students can learn in nine weeks.

But McGonigal says many students do connect what’s taught by CCARE with what’s occurring in their lives.

“One of my favorite stories was a man who was in a church setting and a homeless woman had approached this group that was meeting at the church…. And he could feel in himself that little bit of threat or stress arising that would normally have led him to maybe get rid of that person as quickly as possible so that she didn’t disturb the group that was meeting.”

The man remembered a lesson from the previous week in class.

“He considered the other ways of thinking about her,” McGonigal said. “That, just like him, she was human. She was suffering. Going down the checklist, does this person need help? Do I have the resources to help? And turns out that she had diabetes and she needed food and there wasn’t food available in that moment and the people in the group were able to get her something to eat and the whole thing ended very differently because he was using this framework from the study that we talked about … People can take something from a study and use it in everyday life.”

– Narrated by Judy Silber for San Francisco Public Radio. You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the entire transcript here.

The following resources are intended to help those new to yoga research find and explore existing research; get small, low-cost projects off the ground; and find opportunities to communicate research to key audiences, including potential funders, professional organizations, and the general public. Prepared by Kelly McGonigal for the Yoga Service Council/2012 Yoga Service Conference.

If you have ideas for other resources that should be added to this list, please include the information in a comment on this page!

Slides from talk

McGonigalYSCResearchSLIDESHOW (best for viewing on computer)

McGonigalYSCResearchHandoutSlides (6-slides-per-page handout, easier to print)

General Resources

Finding Research

Create an account with PubMed, then conduct a search for a key term (e.g. “yoga” or “mindfulness meditation”). Click “save search,” which will then allow you to set preferences for receiving email updates for new research. Create as many alerts as you want this way, or use Advanced Search.

Search for research in progress at to find out who is running funded studies now.

Places to Publish/Present or Learn About Research

The International Association of Yoga Therapists publishes both a magazine and peer-reviewed research journal, and welcomes submissions of articles and reports that describe interventions and early-stage research (e.g. feasibility and pilot studies). IAYT also hosts the annual Symposium on Yoga Research (June 11-13 2013 in Boston).

Research Raven is a database of conferences and calls for presentations/papers by a wide range of groups related to trauma, at-risk populations, mental health, social work, medicine, psychotherapy, etc. Find conferences to attend and submit your work to.

The Yoga Service Council plans to put out a call for both presentations at the 2013 conference at the Omega Institute and articles for their forthcoming online journal.

Conducting Research

Informed Consent

The following websites provide examples of informed consent forms you can adapt to your own research project.

Self-Report Measures/Surveys

The following websites provide the items and scoring instructions for validated measures of outcomes relevant to yoga and mindfulness/meditation research. Before administering scales, especially to at-risk populations or children, be sure you understand the ethics and have obtained informed consent and relevant permissions.

Yoga Program Evaluation Surveys developed by Yoga Activist (survey participants, volunteers, and partners’ satisfaction and feedback; use as is or use as sample)

Stress-Related Scales from Sheldon Cohen (perceived stress, perceived social support, stressful life events, childhood stress, physical health symptoms, some translated into other languages)

Mindfulness Scales from the Mindfulness Research Guide (also includes lists of published research & other resources)

Pain-Related Scales from the UAB School of Medicine (pain, disability, physical function, etc.)

Trauma-Related Scales for Adults and for Children from the US Dept of Veterans Affairs

Compassion-Related Measures from the Compassionate Mind Foundation (compassion, self-criticism, social comparison, etc.); Compassion for Others and Self-Compassion Scales from Kristen Neff

Social Anxiety-Related Scales from Mark Leary (including anxiety related to appearance)

Child Mental Health Scales from The Reach Institute (anxiety, depression, ADHD, aggression)

Hospice, Caregiving, and Aging-Related Scales (depression, pain, fatigue, function, caregiver burden, etc.)

These are just some examples of measures to get you started.

If you are looking for validated scales on other topics, there are two main strategies. One is to do a Google search for “________ scale” and see what comes up. The second is to obtain published studies that have looked at the outcome you are interested in and see what measures they use.

Remember you can also ask the groups/administrators you are working with what outcomes they are already measuring that you might get access to.

Tools for Research Design and Analysis

Absolutely fantastic collection of articles, advice, and online tutorials about how to conduct research/surveys to evaluate programs/interventions, from planning your evaluation to reporting your results, and even what it takes to claim a program is “evidence-based.” Compiled by Wilder Research, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

How We Design Feasibility Studies. This article provides good advice and justification for conducting the simplest type of study on a new intervention/program.

Random Assignment Generator (for a randomized controlled trial).

Online Statistics Tool. This website contains calculators to conduct a wide range of analyses (e.g. descriptive statistics, t-tests, correlations) without understanding the math behind them! However, you still need to understand what analyses to run and how to enter the data. Many universities’ statistics departments offer free stats consulting to non-profit organizations; check your local university.