Mindfulness meditation involves clearing out negative thoughts, focusing on breathing and relaxation, and ultimately relieving stress and anxiety. But new research from the journal Psychological Science poses an important question: does all that mind-clearing also affect your memory?
The journal focuses on a recent study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of California-San Diego. Researches three different experiments that tested people’s abilities to correctly remember real and imagined situations. In all three experiments, those who practiced mindfulness meditation were more likely to recall things that hadn’t actually happened.
The first experiment split participants into two groups. One group performed 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation, purposefully eliminating distracting thoughts and focusing on their breathing. The other group was told to just think freely and allow themselves to be distracted by whatever thoughts came to mind. Then all participants analyzed a list of words related to “trash” that didn’t include the word “trash” itself (think “garbage” or “rubbish”). When they were prompted on what they’d seen, 39% of participants who had meditated claimed that they’d seen the actual word “trash” on the list. For comparison, only 20% of the free-thinking group made the same mistake.
The next experiment had all participants skip the thinking period and simply observe and recall a word list. Then after this initial test, everyone split into two groups again, practiced their 15 minutes of respective thinking types, and completed another test. This time the meditative group made more mistakes than they had in the initial test. This, researchers say, suggests that the practice quickly and negatively affected their performance.
The third experiment presented a mixed list to the two groups. Some words had been listed to all participants earlier in the day and some were only topically related but had never been mentioned. Although the groups were similar in remembering the previously-listed words, once again the meditative group claimed to remember more words that they had not actually seen.
What does this mean for mindfulness meditation? It’s a relief to say that it doesn’t seem to affect your real memories whatsoever, as shown in the final experiment. But the research team warns that false memories are fair game and may become more common: “…the same aspects of mindfulness that create countless benefits can also have the unintended negative consequence of increasing false-memory susceptibility,” they write in a report.
Mindfulness meditation can be immensely beneficial, and has been linked to everything from treating depression to improving your sleeping habits. But because it’s so effective at helping you clear your mind of negative thoughts and aim all your energies at senses instead, it’s not surprising that it could also affect certain cognitive processes. It’s worth mentioning that these experiments were also short-term, so we’ll have to wait and see for more in-depth research to be released.
John Kaweske, Colorado resident, has been meditating for years. He finds that the practice helps him with his focus and ability to lead his entrepreneurial ventures. To learn more about his career in renewable energy, please visit his main website.