Meditation has long been a practice associated not with science, but with spirituality and mysticism. However, the field of psychology has over the past several years taken a closer look at the effects of meditation on the human mind, and scientists’ findings have shown that a regular meditation practice can have positive effects on mental health, even in people who otherwise have no mental health difficulties. Meditation practices need not have a supernatural or spiritual component, as when they are a purely secular exercise they maintain their beneficial effects on mental health and subjective wellbeing. That being said, there are a number of different techniques for meditation, and different practices incur different psychological effects. While the most popular meditative practice is called mindfulness, which has benefits in focus, attention and memory, the lesser-known practice of open monitoring meditation can help train the brain to recognize mistakes, according to a study recently conducted at Michigan State University and published in Brain Sciences.
According to the study, open monitoring meditation is a practice that consists of focusing attention on feelings, thoughts, and sensations as they arise in the space of one’s awareness. A form of mindfulness, open monitoring meditation differs from other types of meditation by encouraging practitioners to place their focus on whatever phenomena arises in the mind, rather than focusing on a fixed object or sensation such as the breath. As such, open monitoring meditation leads to different neurological activity, as revealed by the research conducted at Michigan State University. According to the researchers, the neurological activity caused by open monitoring meditation involves regions of the brain associated with error detection, suggesting the potential for this practice to improve people’s ability to spot their mistakes.
One of the benefits of open monitoring meditation is that it can be practiced while doing other things, such as driving, as the practice simply asks you to devote your full attention to whatever is going on at the moment.
The participants in the study were people who were not regular meditators, having little to no experience in the practice, who were asked to participate in a 20-minute guided open monitoring meditation session while their brain activity was monitored via EEG. The study involved 212 participants, and builds on previous research finding a connection between mindfulness and error detection, and aimed to discover the link between these elements. The largest study of its kind as-of-yet, it analyzed activity in different reasons in the brain during meditation and had participants complete a computerized test of distraction.
While the researchers did not find that meditating improved participants’ scores in the distraction test, they did find that activity in the brain changed during the test for people who had meditated before taking it compared to people who had not. As EEGs are capable of detecting signals in the brain within milliseconds of their occuring, the researchers were able to detect brain activity in connection with mistakes made during the distraction test. They found that these signals were stronger in people who had meditated, suggesting that the meditation practice had a positive effect on participants’ ability to recognize mistakes. The researchers stress that further research is needed to understand how these neurological effects can manifest in one’s performance in tasks involving focus and decision-making.
One of the benefits of open monitoring meditation is that it can be practiced while doing other things, such as driving, as the practice simply asks you to devote your full attention to whatever is going on at the moment. As such, you don’t need to sit on a cushion or maintain a certain posture for extended periods of time, but instead can easily incorporate open monitoring meditation into your ordinary daily life. If you’re interested in getting involved with open monitoring meditation, which is also thought to incur benefits in creativity and overall subjective sense of wellbeing, a good place to start is by following along with guided meditation exercises on Youtube or elsewhere on the internet, such as in the video linked here.