Want To Make Fewer Mistakes In Life? Try Meditation. If you are prone to forgetfulness or make errors when pressed for time, a recent study from Michigan State University – the largest of its type to date – discovered that meditation may help you become less prone to errors.
The study, published in the journal Brain Sciences, examined how open monitoring meditation – or meditation that focuses awareness on one’s feelings, thoughts, or sensations as they unfold in the mind and body – affected brain activity in a way that supports enhanced error recognition.
“Public interest in meditation and mindfulness much exceeds what science can demonstrate in terms of effects and benefits,” said Jeff Lin, an MSU psychology doctoral student and co-author of the study. “However, it’s astounding to me that we were able to demonstrate how a single session of guided meditation may alter brain activity in non-meditators.”
The findings show that different types of meditation may have varying neuropsychological effects, and Lin noted that little research has been conducted on the effect of open monitoring meditation on error recognition.
“While certain forms of meditation require you to concentrate on a single item, most frequently your breath, open monitoring meditation is a little different,” Lin explained. “It requires you to focus inward and be aware of everything that is happening in your mind and body. The objective is to sit quietly and pay close attention to the direction in which the mind wanders without becoming distracted by the scenery.”
Lin and his MSU co-authors – William Eckerle, Ling Peng, and Jason Moser – recruited over 200 participants to examine the effect of open monitoring meditation on people’s ability to notice and respond to errors.
The volunteers, who had never meditated before, were led through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise as the researchers used electroencephalography, or EEG, to detect brain activity. They were then subjected to a computer-based distraction test.
“Because the EEG detects brain activity at the millisecond level, we obtained precise measurements of neural activity immediately following errors vs correct responses,” Lin explained. “A specific brain signal called error positivity occurs around half a second after an error and is associated with conscious error recognition. We discovered that meditators have a stronger signal than controls.”
While the meditators did not immediately increase their performance on actual tasks, the researchers’ findings provide an encouraging glimpse into the possibilities of persistent meditation.
“These findings provide compelling evidence that just 20 minutes of meditation can significantly improve the brain’s ability to identify and attend to errors,” Moser said. “It increases our confidence in the capabilities of mindfulness meditation for performance and daily living in the present now.”
While meditation and mindfulness have acquired widespread attention in recent years, Lin is one of a very limited number of academics who examine their psychological and performance consequences using a neuroscientific lens.
Lin stated that the next step of research will involve a larger sample size, testing various styles of meditation, and determining if changes in brain activity may be translated into behavioral changes with longer-term practice.
“While it’s encouraging to see popular interest for mindfulness, there is still more work to be done scientifically to understand the potential benefits and, more importantly, how it works,” Lin said. “It’s past time we began examining it with a more critical eye.”