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What’s the Downside to Mindfulness?

imagesBy Rick Nauert for Psych Central

The concept of mindfulness has garnered significant attention as therapy based on mindfulness has been found to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.

Mindfulness as a concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, non-judgmentally, on the present moment; the concept originates in Buddhist meditation.

Georgetown University researchers now believe that while mindfulness is beneficial in preventing the formation of bad habits, the approach may also inhibit development of good habits.

Overall, researchers are trying to unravel the mystery of implicit learning, or how individuals learn complex information in an incidental manner, without awareness of what has been learned.

Consider this: when testing who would do best on a task to find patterns among a bunch of dots many might think mindful people would score higher than those who are distracted, but researchers found the opposite — participants low on the mindfulness scale did much better on this test of implicit learning, the kind of learning that occurs without awareness.

This outcome might be surprising until one considers that behavioral and neuroimaging studies suggest that mindfulness can undercut automatic learning processes — the kind that lead to development of good and bad habits, said the study’s lead author, Chelsea Stillman.

This study was aimed at examining how individual differences in mindfulness are related to implicit learning.

“Our theory is that one learns habits — good or bad — implicitly, without thinking about them,” said Stillman, a doctoral student. “We wanted to see if mindfulness impeded implicit learning.”

That is in fact what they found.

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