“Mindfulness” is the watchword of gurus and lifestyle coaches everywhere. But too much awareness could prevent the formation of good habits, new research suggests.
People high in mindfulness — a state of active attention to what’s going on in the present moment — are worse at automatic learning, according to the study, which is being presented today (Nov. 12) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. Automatic processes lead to the formation of habits — both good and bad, said study researcher Chelsea Stillman, a doctoral student in psychology at the Georgetown University Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery.
That inhibition of habit formation might prevent bad habits from taking hold, but it could also prevent healthy habits from forming. Still, other studies suggest that cultivating peaceful, active attention has its benefits. Meditation and mindfulness were shown to improve depression symptoms in a 2010 study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
And for explicit learning — the kind you have to work at consciously — mindfulness may be helpful. A study published this year in the journal Psychological Science showed that mindfulness improved scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the test taken to show readiness for graduate school. Mindfulness training may prevent the mind from wandering during test taking, the researchers suggested.
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