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NCCIH Research Blog

Selecting the ‘Right’ Comparators for Meditative Movement Interventions

April 18, 2016

Lanay M. Mudd, Ph.D.

Lanay M. Mudd, Ph.D.

Program Director

Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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In a typical work week, I talk to several potential grant applicants about their specific aims and/or research questions as they develop a grant proposal. While these conversations often center on the development of a mind-body intervention, occasionally I get asked, “What would be the best control group for this intervention?” In reality, there is no easy answer to this question.

The development of an appropriate comparator is a critical, yet often overlooked piece of designing rigorous trials of mind-body interventions. In a tutorial session at the upcoming International Congress for Integrative Medicine and Health (ICIMH), I have invited three current NCCIH Grantees, Crystal Park, Ph.D., Robert Saper, M.D., M.P.H., and Anand Dhruva, M.D., to help me delve deeper into the process of selecting comparators for meditative movement interventions (i.e., yoga, tai chi, and qi gong).

By their very nature, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, are multi-component interventions including meditative techniques, breathing exercises and forms of physical activity. In addition, all of these interventions can provide nonspecific effects such as expectations for improvement, teacher attention, and social support. Investigators employing these therapies as a health intervention often struggle to define the mechanism of effect, which renders the selection of the most appropriate comparator group difficult.

In our session, we will:

  1. Review the process of defining the hypothesis of interest and using that hypothesis to guide the selection of a comparator group.
  2. Discuss the pros and cons of comparing separate elements of each therapy (e.g., yogic breathing vs. poses) versus examining them as a whole therapy, and the research questions these different approaches could answer. The importance of precise measurement techniques relevant to meditative movement therapies to allow for more rigorous hypothesis testing will be highlighted.
  3. Discuss NCCIH funding opportunities, such as PAR-14-182, which can be used to develop both intervention and comparator conditions.
  4. Conclude the session with interactive Q&A time where I will pose common research question scenarios to the panelists and ask them to suggest their “ideal comparator group” for that scenario.

We look forward to a lively discussion at ICIMH and hope you can join us there!

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