Meditation keeps emotional brain in check

September 29, 2016, Michigan State University
Credit: Michigan State University

Meditation can help tame your emotions even if you're not a mindful person, suggests a new study from Michigan State University.

Reporting in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, psychology researchers recorded the of people looking at disturbing pictures immediately after meditating for the first time. These participants were able to tame their negative emotions just as well as participants who were naturally mindful.

"Our findings not only demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but that people can acquire these benefits regardless of their 'natural' ability to be mindful," said Yanli Lin, an MSU graduate student and lead investigator of the study. "It just takes some practice."

Mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings and sensations, has gained worldwide popularity as a way to promote health and well-being. But what if someone isn't naturally mindful? Can they become so simply by trying to make mindfulness a "state of mind"? Or perhaps through a more focused, deliberate effort like meditation?

The study, conducted in Jason Moser's Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, attempted to find out.

Researchers assessed 68 participants for mindfulness using a scientifically validated survey. The participants were then randomly assigned to engage in an 18-minute audio guided meditation or listen to a control presentation of how to learn a new language, before viewing negative pictures (such as a bloody corpse) while their brain activity was recorded.

The participants who meditated – they had varying levels of natural mindfulness – showed similar levels of "emotion regulatory" brain activity as people with high levels of natural mindfulness. In other words their emotional brains recovered quickly after viewing the troubling photos, essentially keeping their negative emotions in check.

In addition, some of the were instructed to look at the gruesome photos "mindfully" (be in a mindful state of mind) while others received no such instruction. Interestingly, the people who viewed the photos "mindfully" showed no better ability to keep their in check.

This suggests that for non-meditators, the emotional benefits of mindfulness might be better achieved through meditation, rather than "forcing it" as a state of mind, said Moser, MSU associate professor of clinical psychology and co-author of the study.

"If you're a naturally mindful person, and you're walking around very aware of things, you're good to go. You shed your emotions quickly," Moser said. "If you're not naturally mindful, then meditating can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of . But for people who are not naturally mindful and have never meditated, forcing oneself to be mindful 'in the moment' doesn't work. You'd be better off meditating for 20 minutes."

Explore further: Can an app help us find mindfulness in today's busy high-tech world?

Related Stories

Can an app help us find mindfulness in today's busy high-tech world?

September 19, 2016
With the release of the latest Apple Watch this month came a new Breathe app which promises to "help you better manage everyday stress". Giving mindful breathing a place beside the alarm clock and weather app seems to prove ...

Mindful individuals less affected by immediate rewards

November 1, 2013
A new study from the University of Toronto Scarborough shows that people who are aware of and their own thoughts and emotions are less affected by positive feedback from others.

New research reveals mindful parenting reduces child stress

January 20, 2016
Mindfulness in parenting significantly reduces children's stress levels, according to a new study by the University of Melbourne's Director of Positive Psychology, Professor Lea Waters.

Study suggests that washing dishes decreases stress

October 1, 2015
Washing those dreadful dishes after a long day seems like the furthest thing from relaxation. Or is it?

Better living through mindfulness: Study connects traits of mindfulness to emotional well-being

March 7, 2013
A new study from the University of Utah shows that individuals who describe themselves as being more mindful have more stable emotions and perceive themselves to have better control over their mood and behavior throughout ...

Opinion: How mindfulness can help you make better life choices

August 17, 2016
One of the most important events in the British education calendar is approaching: A-level results day. Beyond A-levels, choosing what you want to do, or what you want to study are two of the big decisions in life. And, as ...

Recommended for you

'It's all in the eyes': The role of the amygdala in the experience and perception of fear

August 21, 2018
Researchers have long believed that the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, is central to the experience and perception of fear. Studies initiated in the 1990s of a patient with a rare condition affecting the ...

Study sheds light on how brain lets animals hunt for food by following smells

August 21, 2018
Most animals have a keen sense of smell, which assists them in everyday tasks. Now, a new study led by researchers at NYU School of Medicine sheds light on exactly how animals follow smells.

Dehydration alters human brain shape and activity, slackens task performance

August 21, 2018
When dehydration strikes, part of the brain can swell, neural signaling can intensify, and doing monotonous tasks can get harder.

Study: 'Sound' differences between age groups

August 21, 2018
By exploring differences in the way younger and older adults respond to sounds, Western neuroscientists have found that our brains become more sensitive to sounds as we age, likely leading to hearing challenges over a lifetime.

Powerful molecules provide new findings about Huntington's disease

August 21, 2018
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a direct link between the protein aggregation in nerve cells that is typical for neurodegenerative diseases, and the regulation of gene expression in Huntington's disease. ...

Children with brain tumors who undergo radiation less likely to recall recent events

August 20, 2018
Children with certain types of brain tumors who undergo radiation treatment are less likely to recall the specifics of events they experienced after radiation than to remember pre-treatment happenings, according to a Baylor ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NoStrings
not rated yet Sep 29, 2016
In my experience, people get very irritated if something or someone interrupts their 'mindfulness' meditation. So much so, that any potential benefit of meditation is more than negated by their anger of inevitable interruptions.
For people who are in a peaceful environment where they can meditate, it seems like there is no stress or anxiety they need to fight. All is fine anyway...
Meditation angered, I wait for your responses. Did I interrupt YOUR meditation?
EnricM
not rated yet Sep 30, 2016
In my experience, people get very irritated if something or someone interrupts their 'mindfulness' meditation.


Then they are doing it wrong. An important part of meditation, at least as tough in Zen Buddhism is to be able to get out of the meditative state. This was actually a matter of live and dead in ancient Japan where zen meditation was a part of samurai and sohei practice.

Actually stripping all the mumbo-jumbo of it, meditation is nothing more than putting your body on "autoscan", but I assume that "spiritual" people thing that you will levitate out of the window or something the like. Note that I use "spiritual' in a pejorative way.

Eikka
not rated yet Oct 03, 2016
An important part of meditation, at least as tough in Zen Buddhism is to be able to get out of the meditative state.


Actually, the point is to be able to maintain samadhi while doing anything.

My magical power and spiritual exercise consists in
Carrying water and gathering firewood.

P'ang Chü-shih (The Golden Age of Zen 94, 304 n.5)

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.