‘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 Dr Yanli Lin, lead author on the study. ‘It just takes some practice.’
The team asked 68 participants to either listen to an 18-minute audio meditation guide or a control presentation on learning a new language. Each person was then shown upsetting images, including photos of corpses, while hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) which recorded their brain activity. All participants were female; the authors argued this meant they did not have to account for gender differences relating to regulating emotions.
Previous studies have shown that LPP ‘reflects a global inhibition of activity in visual cortex, resulting in the selective survival of activity associated with the processing of the emotional stimulus’. It is part of an emotional coping mechanism, and in this study it was argued that it proved those who meditated could control their negative emotions and recover quickly.
The Michigan team found the results in the group that meditated were similar to those found in prior studies on ‘naturally mindful’ people, ‘suggesting that the benefits of mindfulness can be cultivated through practice’.
It seems that, like most other things, practice is the key to success. In that regard, the researchers found that when individuals were specifically instructed to ‘be mindful’, when looking at the distressing photos, the LPP was not impacted at all, ‘indicating that deliberate engagement in [a] state [of] mindfulness may not be an effective form of emotion regulation in meditation novices’.
Study: Lin, Y et al. ‘Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation.’ Front. Hum. Neurosci. 07 September 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00451