PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Many studies tout the mental health benefits of mindfulness — one recent report found it’s just as effective in reducing stress as psychotherapy — but does one gender enjoy these benefits more than the other?
Researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island discovered in a new study that the practice may hold greater advantages for women than men.
The research team examined 77 students— 41 of whom were male, and 36 female— who were part of a year-long class devoted to the practice of mindfulness. The course included three hour-long meditation sessions a week, in which about half of the time was dedicated toward Buddhist or Daoist contemplative practice.
The researchers hoped to determine whether gender was a variable in evaluating the efficacy of mindfulness practices. As a whole, both male and female students came into the study with the same level of “negative affect”— defined as a downcast mood— and each student ended up having practiced 41 hours of meditation.
While none of the 77 students were found to have left the class with a dramatic reduction in negative affect, females saw a much bigger benefit in this aspect. Women demonstrated an 11.6 percent decline in negative affect; men, meanwhile, only posted a 3.7 percent decrease.
It should be noted that both genders demonstrated significant gains in other skills, such as the ability to show self-compassion, but women showed the biggest gains in four of the five categories measured.
This study is groundbreaking in that previous research hadn’t been able to definitively conclude that there was a gender gap in mindfulness practices.
As for why the gap exists, it might come down to the ways in which men and women think.
“Stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” explains co-author Willoughby Britton in a university press release. “So for people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for [improving] that. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive.”
Britton says the results are especially encouraging for women who may not know where to turn if fears of a mental illness crop up.
“Emotional disorders like depression in early adulthood are linked to a litany of negative trajectories that further disadvantage women, such as poor academic performance, school drop-out, early pregnancy and substance abuse,” she says. “The fact that a college course could teach women skills to better manage negative affect at this early age could have potentially far-reaching effects on women’s lives.”
The study’s findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.