Research shows that mindfulness can improve daily psychological routines

March 7, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- A study from a transatlantic team of psychologists led by Dr Ulrich Weger from the University of Kent has shown that simple social judgment tasks that play a role in people’s daily routines can be influenced through mindfulness exercises.

Mindfulness can be defined as a state of moment-to-moment awareness in which people experience their environment without immediate reactions or preconceived notions. The tasks that can be improved through this practice may include emotional judgments, interpersonal communications or the handling of social challenges.

Dr Weger explained that quite often straightforward psychological judgments such as estimating personal performance in a given situation are easily influenced by latent anxieties or prejudices. He said:

"Most of the time, people are not even aware of these subtle psychological variables and yet they have the power to become self-fulfilling prophecies. For example: in a situation where someone has to take an exam and knows that their results will be compared with others who they expect to do much better, many people experience a certain psychological threat that makes their performance suffer. This so-called "stereotype threat" has long been known to influence performance negatively, even when there is no ground for real differences. This includes females doing worse in a maths test after being warned that they will be compared with males (relative to when no such comparison is mentioned) and white males doing worse in the same test when warned that they will be compared with Asian males."

It is not easy for a person to simply rid themselves of these latent anxieties - in fact, if suppressed they are known to rebound under certain conditions. However, through its study the team has shown that if people focus their attention and direct it in a principled manner towards a given object for a few minutes rather than let it wander or get sidetracked by the worrying thoughts, the negative consequences of such psychological threat are alleviated. In other words, those who experience psychological threat improve significantly after a mindfulness exercise, compared with those who also experience threat but do not engage in the exercise.

Dr Weger added: "This finding has significant implications for the way we experience and interact with our environment. It shows that while we may be vulnerable to anxieties, stereotypes or similar stressors, we are not enslaved by them. Our results suggest that it really depends on us as to how long - or short - of a lead we grant these stressors in pulling us off track."

Those involved in the project include Dr Weger, Dr Tim Hopthrow and Dr Nic Hooper from the School of Psychology at Kent, and Dr Brian Meier from the Department of Psychology at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania.

Titled "Practising as a strategy to prevent premature judgements", the project was funded by The Leverhulme Trust UK. The results will be published by the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Explore further: How psychological cues can limit black students' academic learning, success

Related Stories

Don't worry, be happy -- understanding mindfulness meditation

October 31, 2011

In times of stress, we're often encouraged to pause for a moment and simply be in the 'now.' This kind of mindfulness, an essential part of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions, has entered the mainstream as people try to ...

Recommended for you

Game study not playing around with PTSD relief

May 26, 2017

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients wrestling with one of its main symptoms may find long-term relief beyond medication thanks to the work of a Western researcher.

Bouldering envisioned as new treatment for depression

May 25, 2017

A growing body of research suggests that bouldering, a form of rock climbing, can help build muscle and endurance while reducing stress—and a new study co-led by a University of Arizona doctoral student of psychology suggests ...

Study documents range of challenging meditation experiences

May 24, 2017

Meditation is increasingly being marketed as a treatment for conditions such as pain, depression, stress and addiction, and while many people achieve therapeutic goals, other meditators encounter a much broader range of experiences—sometimes ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.