EAST LANSING, Mich. — Meditation has long been advertised as helpful in reducing feelings of anxiety, stress, and overall nervousness. Now, people who are clumsy or error-prone when completing a task may also want to consider learning some mindful breathing techniques. That’s because a new study finds that regular meditation can also help individuals make fewer mistakes.
The research, the largest of its kind ever, focused on open monitoring meditation. This type of meditation is among the most well-known to the general public and focuses on clearing the mind and becoming aware of feelings, thoughts, and sensations as they occur naturally in a relaxed state. The study’s authors were curious to see how this meditation variation influences brain activity in relation to recognizing errors and mistakes.
“People’s interest in meditation and mindfulness is outpacing what science can prove in terms of effects and benefits,” comments doctoral candidate and study co-author Jeff Lin in a release. “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.”
According to the research team, different forms of meditation likely have varying levels of effect on brain activity. Furthermore, there is still much more work to be done on the subject of open source meditation and error recognition.
“Some forms of meditation have you focus on a single object, commonly your breath, but open monitoring meditation is a bit different,” Lin says. “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.”
More than 200 people, all of whom had never meditated before, participated in the study. Each subject was put through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise while their brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography (EEG). Next, each participant filled out 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 explains. “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.”
To be clear, the study participants didn’t immediately start committing fewer mistakes after just 20 minutes of meditation. Still, the research team is pleased with their findings, and believe the results offer a glimpse of the benefits prolonged meditation habits can offer in reference to cutting back on mistakes and errors.
Meditation has risen in popularity in recent years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Consequently, it is likely that more neuro-scientific research on the effect of meditation on the brain will soon follow. Moving forward, Lin would like to perform additional research with a broader group of participants and include more forms of meditation.
“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 concludes. “It’s time we start looking at it through a more rigorous lens.”
The study is published in the scientific journal Brain Sciences.