"Mindfulness may help prevent formation of all habits because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing."
The technique of mindful awareness is commonly used to help people reduce the effects of stress in their lives. But does it do more as well?
New research out of Georgetown University reveals that being mindful appears to help prevent the formation of bad habits. That's the good news. Being mindful may also prevent good habits, as well.
In trying to unravel the impact of implicit learning have come up with this conclusion - which may not make sense -- at first.
Consider this: when testing who would do best on a task to find patterns among a bunch of dots many might think mindful people would score higher than those who are distracted. Actually, researchers found the opposite: participants low on the mindfulness scale did much better on this test of implicit learning, or learning that occurs without awareness.
This outcome might be surprising until one considers that behavioral and neuroimaging studies suggest that mindfulness can undercut the automatic learning processes.
This study was aimed at examining how individual differences in mindfulness are related to implicit learning. "Our theory is that one learns habits -- good or bad -- implicitly, without thinking about them," Stillman says. "So we wanted to see if mindfulness impeded implicit learning."
That is what they found. Two samples of adult participants first completed a test that gauged their mindfulness character trait, and then they completed different tasks that measured implicit learning -- either the Triplet-Learning Task or the Alternating Serial Reaction Time Task test. Both tasks used circles on a screen and participants were asked to respond to the location of certain colored circles. These tasks tested the ability of participants to learn complex, probabilistic patterns, although test takers would not be aware of that.
The researchers found that people reporting low on the mindfulness scale tended to learn more -- their reaction times were quicker in targeting events that occurred more often within a context of preceding events than those that occurred less often.
. . .mindfulness may prevent formation of all habits. . .
"The very fact of paying too much attention or being too aware of stimuli coming up in these tests might actually inhibit implicit learning," one researcher says. "That suggests that mindfulness may help prevent formation of all habits -- which is done through implicit learning -- because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing."
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Story Source: based on materials provided by Georgetown University Medical Center (2013, November 12). Mindfulness inhibits implicit learning -- the wellspring of bad habits. ScienceDaily.