If you are forgetful or make mistakes when in a hurry, a new study found that meditation could help you to become less error prone. The research tested how open monitoring meditation — or, the practice that focuses awareness on feelings, thoughts or sensations as they unfold in one’s mind and body — altered brain activity in a way that suggests increased error recognition.
People’s interest in meditation and mindfulness is outpacing what science can prove in terms of effects and benefits. But it’s amazing that we are able to see how one session of a guided meditating can produce changes to brain activity in non-meditators.
The findings suggest that different forms of meditation can have different neurocognitive effects and that there is little research about how open monitoring meditation impacts error recognition. Some forms of meditating 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.
More than 200 participants were recruited to test how open monitoring meditation affected how people detect and respond to errors. The participants, who had never meditated before, were taken through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise while the researchers measured brain activity through electroencephalography, or 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. 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 the meditators didn’t have immediate improvements to actual task performance, the researchers’ findings offer a promising window into the potential of sustained meditation. 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. 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. The next phase of research will be to include a broader group of participants, test different forms of meditation and determine whether changes in brain activity can translate to behavioral changes with more long-term practice.