Meditation is frequently linked with a number of brain benefits. But a study from Michigan State University claims to be the first to find meditating could help you make fewer mistakes – or, at least, to realise when you’ve made a mistake more quickly.
Published in the journal Brain Sciences, the study investigated how different forms of meditation may have different neurocognitive effects. And one of the forms of meditation it looked at is called open monitoring meditation. Researcher Jeff Lin, the study’s co-author, explains: “Some forms of meditation have you focus on a single object, commonly your breath, but open monitoring meditation is a bit different. 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.”
According to Lin there’s little research into how open monitoring meditation affects error recognition, so he and his research team decided to look at how it may alter brain activity to get some answers. Two hundred volunteers who had never meditated before were signed up then taken through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise. While they were meditating they had their brain activity measured using electroencephalography (EEG). The after the meditation session, the volunteers took a computer-based distraction test.
What the tests showed was that a neural signal called the error positivity – which is linked to conscious error recognition – was stronger in the meditators compared to that of a control group of non-meditators. And while the meditators may not have actually performed better than the non-meditators in the distraction test, the researchers think they’re onto something.
“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,” says Jason Moser, one of the study’s other co-authors. “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.”
So could practising open monitoring meditation regularly lead to us actually making fewer mistakes? Perhaps, say the researchers, who are ploughing ahead with more research in this fascinating area.