Posted on Nov 12, 2019, 6 p.m.
A recent study published in Brain Sciences from Michigan State University suggests that if you are forgetful or make mistakes when you are in a rush meditation may help you to become less error prone, finding that meditation altered brain activity in a way that suggests increased error recognition.
The study tested how open monitoring meditation, or meditation that focuses awareness on feelings, thoughts, or sensations as they unfold in the mind and body can alter brain activity in a way that suggests increased error recognition. Different forms of meditation are suggested to have different neurocognitive effects, yet there is little research regarding how open monitoring meditation may impact error recognition explains Lin.
"People's interest in meditation and mindfulness is outpacing what science can prove in terms of effects and benefits," said Jeff Lin, MSU psychology doctoral candidate and study co-author. "But it's amazing to me that we were able to see how one session of a guided meditation can produce changes to brain activity in non-meditators."
"Some forms of meditation have you focus on a single object, commonly your breath, but open monitoring meditation is a bit different," Lin said. "It has you tune inward and pay attention to everything going on in your mind and body. The goal is to sit quietly and pay close attention to where the mind travels without getting too caught up in the scenery."
Over 200 participants were enrolled to test how open monitoring meditation affected how they detected and responded to errors; participants had never mediated before and were taken through a 20 minute exercise while their brain activity was measured through EEG, then they completed a computerized distraction test.
"The EEG can measure brain activity at the millisecond level, so we got precise measures of neural activity right after mistakes compared to correct responses," Lin said. "A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls."
While there weren’t any immediate improvements to actual task performance, findings offer promise into the potential of sustained mediation. "These findings are a strong demonstration of what just 20 minutes of meditation can do to enhance the brain's ability to detect and pay attention to mistakes," Moser said. "It makes us feel more confident in what mindfulness meditation might really be capable of for performance and daily functioning right there in the moment."
Next phase in this research according to Lin will be to include a broader range of participants, test different forms of meditation, and determine whether changes in brain activity can translate to behavioral changes with more long term practice.
"It's great to see the public's enthusiasm for mindfulness, but there's still plenty of work from a scientific perspective to be done to understand the benefits it can have, and equally importantly, how it actually works," Lin said. "It's time we start looking at it through a more rigorous lens."
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