Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Charles R. Carlson


A central component of many psychological interventions is breathing training. Breathing training protocols based on a mindfulness or a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have demonstrated value in the management of psychological and medical ailments. Yet, despite the wealth of literature examining each approach, little direct comparison exists. An additional concern is the proliferation of smart phone health (mHealth) applications (apps) providing breathing training with little empirical evidence to support their clinical use. A possible explanation for the interest in breathing and mHealth apps is the growing body of literature indicating breathing training provides wide ranging health benefits through improved stasis of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). As ANS dysregulation underlies many chronic health conditions such as persistent temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), there is a need for empirical research to identify the most effective modality of breathing training and validate the clinical efficacy of breathing based mHealth apps.

Study One compared the effectiveness of a mindfulness breathing meditation (MB) and a CBT based protocol teaching diaphragmatic breathing (DB) to improve biomarkers of ANS stasis. An attention control approach based on the Nolen-Hoeksema task (C) was included as a comparison group. Ninety participants were randomly assigned to either the MB, DB, or C condition. Within each condition, 30 participants were provided skills training with practice time and completed a behavioral self-regulation task. Participants in the DB condition approach had significantly lower breathing rates than those in the MB and C conditions (p < .001). DB condition participants experienced improvements on high-frequency heart rate variability (p < .05) and the standard deviation in NN intervals (p < .001), which served as indicators for ANS stasis. No differences were found between conditions on the behavioral self-regulation task (p’s > .05). Given these results, the DB training protocol was converted into a mHealth app to facilitate a clinical trial with patients suffering persistent TMDs.

Study Two examined the additive benefits of including the mHealth app with standard dental care (SDC+) versus standard dental care alone (SDC). Nineteen patients seeking care for persistent TMDs were recruited. All participants were asked to track daily ratings of pain (VAS), relaxation (RR), and complete weekly assessments on several comorbid psycho-social factors. Within the SDC+ condition participants were asked to track the proximate effects of each breathing practice on VAS and RR ratings. Given a high drop-out rate (nine participants) and low overall sample size (N = 10), results are exploratory at best. Within the SDC+ condition, results indicated reliable improvements in average VAS and RR ratings from before and after SDC+ participants used the mHealth app (p’s < .05).

Within a one session training paradigm, results supported the use of a DB based intervention above the use of a MB or C intervention. Future research should consider the effects of having multiple training sessions. Study Two results were complicated by a limited sample size and failed to provide a clear picture of whether the conjunctive treatment in the SDC+ condition provided additional symptom relief above traditional dental care alone. Although exploratory results indicated the mHealth app provided temporary improvements in pain and feelings of relaxation, a well powered trial is needed to clarify whether the finding represents an enduring treatment effect.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)