Dominating the wellness sector and mainstream press alike, the buzz around mindfulness has been hard to miss over the past couple of years.
That is until a report, published by researchers from the University of California, found that those participating in a mindfulness practice were more likely to have false memories. One hundred and fifty university students were recruited for the study, which was made up of two parts.
Firstly, half the students engaged in a 15minute per day, 5 week mindfulness study followed by testing; and in the second part the first group engaged in a single 15 minute mindfulness practice directly before testing.
In both parts of the study the second group did no mindfulness and were allowed to let their minds wander freely.
During testing the students were asked to recall a list of words, for example: garbage, rubbish, dustbin, while the word “trash” was omitted. In both parts of the test the students who had practiced mindfulness were up to twice as likely to have “false memories”, for example incorrectly remembering the word “trash” was on the original list.
Described by the researchers as “the cultivation of awareness to the present moment…shown in recent years to have beneficial effects on cognition”, research on mindfulness up to this point has been overwhelmingly positive; with reported benefits including better sleep quality, reduced rates of depression and anxiety, and better concentration. However, this research suggests that mindfulness could have an unforeseen downside.
Bret Wilson, a psychologist at the university, stated “our research highlights an unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation: memories may be less accurate.” As explained in the Daily Mail, “Mr. Wilson and colleagues wonder whether the process of judgement-free thoughts and feelings might affect people’s ability to determine where a given memory came from”.
So, for example, your imagined thought about a kind exchange with a friend could become confused with an exchange that actually took place thereby creating the so-called ‘false memories.’
But don’t despair if like me and thousands of others you’ve found your mindfulness practice really beneficial, the researchers say it’s perfectly okay to carry on.
The many benefits of mindfulness that have already been proven still apply, and even after this project the researchers believe there are many positives to be found in the practice.