The so-called Mindfulness Movement is very popular right now. It’s practiced to tune out distractions and get in the moment, and it’s frequently employed to aid stress management and improve sleep. Much like Transcendental Meditation and other hippie-stained practices from days past, mindfulness has found favor among people who, let’s be honest, don’t have many reasons to be stressed. In other words, yuppies love Mindfulness.
Good news, then, for stressed white people: Research actually endorses mindfulness. But, according to a new study, gaining peace of mind may come at a price: false recall. Psychologists from the University of California, San Diego found that people who spent 15 minutes focusing on their awareness and presence were more likely to have false memories.
Why this connection? The authors hypothesized, as explained in a press release, “The very mechanism that seems to underlie the benefits of mindfulness — judgment-free thoughts and feelings — might also affect people’s ability to determine the origin of a given memory.”
The key word is origin. Some memories come from external sources; others memories begin internally. When real and imagined memories are too similar, we may confuse which happened and which is but a dream unrealized.
For the study, researchers conducted three experiments. In the first, they randomly split college students into two groups. Everyone participated in a 15-minute guided exercise, but the mindfulness group was told to focus on “breathing without judgment”; the “mind-wandering group” could think about whatever popped into their noggins. Participants then studied a list of 15 words associated with trash, but not the word “trash” itself.
When asked to recall as many words from the list as possible, the mindfulness group-members incorrectly blurted out “trash" almost twice as often. Apparently they haven’t spent enough Friday nights playing Taboo.
The second and third experiments were structurally similar, and both focused on picking words from a list. Most participants accurately identified words they’d actually been shown. But, after meditating, they falsely identified a higher number of related-but-unseen words.
The researchers concluded that mindfulness may affect cognitive processes involved in accurate memory recall.
The lesson? If you’re looking to chill out at an ambient music festival, call up your yoga-loving friends. But if you need an alibi, ring up the neurotic over-thinker who’s never blocked the noise of life — but can’t forget it either.