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Image / Editorial

Mindfulness May Have A Unique Side Effect

by Jennifer McShane
12th Sep 2015

We’ve reported many times on the positive after-effects of mindfulness and how it can benefit your mental health. Methods have been introduced so that it can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, it’s been a proven as an aid to those struggling with depression and linked to relieving stress, while boosting focus, morality, and even relationship satisfaction. We’re big fans of it here at IMAGE. ?Now for the first time, a new study has linked a negative side effect to the practice, with researchers claiming that it can affect your perception of memories.

According to Yahoo Health, a new study found that a session as short as 15 minutes could leave people less able to distinguish between words they had seen written down, and those they had thought about in their heads alone.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), examined the disruptive properties of mindfulness, which teaches the quieting of the mind and learning to acknowledge and then dismiss negative thoughts, by putting 153 undergraduate students through a series of experiments designed to test the practice’s effects on their concept of reality and imagination.

Half of the participants were tasked with spending 15 minutes focusing on their breathing. The others were asked to think normally, before being asked to recall a list of 15 words, all of which related to garbage (refuge, sewage, waste, etc.). The list did not include the word trash.

But 39 percent of those tested falsely believed they had seen trash written down, compared to almost half that rate for those who had let their minds wander, with two further experiments exhibiting the same results.

?When memories of imagined and real experiences too closely resemble each other, people can have difficulty determining which is which, and this can lead to falsely remembering imagined experiences as actual experiences,? explained Brent Wilson, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of California. ?Our results highlight an unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation: memories may be less accurate,? he continued. ?The same aspects of mindfulness that create countless benefits can also have the unintended negative consequence of increasing false-memory susceptibility.?

As a result, researchers concluded, mindfulness can impact our ability to accurately identify memories. People who undergo mindfulness meditation can actually confuse things they imagined with real experiences – and they can have a harder time deciding if experiences were real or imagined.

Though this is an interesting study, it’s worth noting that this was just one set of studies undertaken, and as it stands, the research done on the many positive effects on mindfulness outweigh this somewhat odd side effect.

A study published earlier this year in The Lancet found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may offer similar protection as medication against relapse in people struggling from depression.?The American Psychological Association also reported that mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress, emotional reactivity, and ruminating thoughts, while boosting focus, morality, and even relationship satisfaction.

Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, told Yahoo Health that the findings were ‘surprising,? but adds that the mind often has difficulty differentiating between what is real and fake in the first place.

So, intriguing as the findings are, there’s probably no reason for fans of the practice to get too worried. As with most things in life, there is generally positive and negative effects to any method and this just affirms that mindfulness isn’t exempt from this.

Via Yahoo Health

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