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Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation

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This is from the recent NYT article "Breathing In vs. Spacing Out" on the cognitive downsides of too much mindfulness.

But one of the most surprising findings of recent mindfulness studies is that it could have unwanted side effects. Raising roadblocks to the mind’s peregrinations could, after all, prevent the very sort of mental vacations that lead to epiphanies. In 2012, Jonathan Schooler, who runs a lab investigating mindfulness and creativity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a study titled “Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation.” In it, he found that having participants spend a brief period of time on an undemanding task that maximizes mind wandering improved their subsequent performance on a test of creativity. In a follow-up study, he reported that physicists and writers alike came up with their most insightful ideas while spacing out.

While it an obvious case of ethical irony--at least from a Buddhist POV--to improve combat mindfulness, there is nothing sad
“A third of the creative ideas they had during a two-week period came when their minds were wandering,” Schooler said. “And those ideas were more likely to be characterized as ‘aha’ insights that overcame an impasse.”

The trick is knowing when mindfulness is called for and when it’s not. “When you’re staring out the window, you may well be coming up with your next great idea,” he said. “But you’re not paying attention to the teacher. So the challenge is finding the balance between mindfulness and mind wandering. If you’re driving in a difficult situation, if you’re operating machinery, if you’re having a conversation, it’s useful to hold that focus. But that could be taken to an extreme, where one always holds their attention in the present and never lets it wander.”

Another potential drawback to mindfulness has been identified by researchers at Georgetown University. In a study presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November, they found that the higher adults scored on a measurement of mindfulness, the worse they performed on tests of implicit learning — the kind that underlies all sorts of acquired skills and habits but that occurs without conscious awareness. In the study, participants were shown a long sequence of items and repeatedly challenged to guess which one would come next. Although supposedly random, it contained a hidden pattern that made some items more likely to appear than others. The more mindful participants were worse at intuiting the correct answers.

“There’s so much our brain is doing when we’re not aware of it,” said the study’s leader, Chelsea Stillman, a doctoral candidate. “We know that being mindful is really good for a lot of explicit cognitive functions. But it might not be so useful when you want to form new habits.” Learning to ride a bicycle, speak grammatically or interpret the meaning of people’s facial expressions are three examples of knowledge we acquire through implicit learning — as if by osmosis, without our being able to describe how we did it.



Thoughts?

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/20/14 1:57 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Sounds like standard press. No definitions stated, papers quoted without any relevant information, suspicious reasoning, mentions of tests without knowing what they measure or whether they are accurate. Blah blah blah

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/20/14 3:04 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
The relationship between the kind of mindfulness they are talking about, and the kind of mindfulness they are talking about is questionable.

"So the challenge is finding the balance between mindfulness and mind wandering. If you’re driving in a difficult situation, if you’re operating machinery, if you’re having a conversation, it’s useful to hold that focus."

I would not want to be focused on viewing everything as fine vibratory sensations with an eye towards the fundamental nature of such things, while trying to operate heavy machinery, for example.


I'm pretty sure there are studies showing that meditation is beneficial to creativity. From personal experience, meditation can sometimes lead to heightened intuition.

At most, this is a reminder that no one mind state is perfect. Meditation has tended to increase my awareness, understanding and access to a variety of mind states.

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/20/14 4:39 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Intuitions are the unconscious mind communicating with the conscious mind. I'm under the impression that meditation strengthens one's connection to the unconscious mind.

Even if mindfulness interfered with the epiphany process, a skilled practitioner could simply concentrate on the problem/question for a minute or two, then sit with choiceless awareness until an answer presents itself. And, if that doesn't work I'm sure the Western Magick tradition has its ways.

Intentional intuition > Archimedes style eureka

IMO

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/20/14 7:01 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
This stuff is so obvious and basic. It also depends on how fabricated the mindfulness is. Is it really mindfulness or excess concentration that blocks out thoughts? When I go to work I just WORK and when I use mindfulness it's so subtle as to appear more like non-clinging than any kind of forced attention. Targeting the aversion that comes with "cleaning the mirror" and being irritated that the mind wandered, is also a part of proper mindfulness practice. That fact that you know that your mind wandered means you're already back. You don't need to push aversely to bring your mind back. It's an extra loop that's not needed.

Mindfulness has actually improved my thinking.

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/20/14 9:59 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
We can look at this from different angles. For one, we are taking a practice that was originally developed to achieve Enlightenment. Many researchers and most people that get on board on the mindfulness trend don't even acknowledge the possibility of Enlightenment and see mindfulness as nothing more than a way to feel less stress out. If your goal is Enlightenment, on the path you will have to give up plenty of stuff, and being clever and productive can end up being among the things you have to give up at some point. A stage like Equanimity can really fuck your cognitive abilities, give you serious memory issues, speech impairment, etc. On the other hand, there is no doubt that when you are at one of the plateau (1th path to 4th), and not in the dark night or equanimity, your cognitive abilities are increased. But the difference then is that you are naturally mindful. Beginners have to put a lot of effort to remains mindful and it is that effort that can cause problems when they are working on some other goals than the path.

RE: Cognitive Downsides of Mindfullness Meditation
Answer
1/21/14 12:20 AM as a reply to Jason Snyder.

Another potential drawback to mindfulness has been identified by researchers at Georgetown University. In a study presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November, they found that the higher adults scored on a measurement of mindfulness, the worse they performed on tests of implicit learning — the kind that underlies all sorts of acquired skills and habits but that occurs without conscious awareness. In the study, participants were shown a long sequence of items and repeatedly challenged to guess which one would come next. Although supposedly random, it contained a hidden pattern that made some items more likely to appear than others. The more mindful participants were worse at intuiting the correct answers.


Hmm. Reminds me of people's descriptions of stimulants... some people say that stimulants help them focus but reduce creativity, whereas weed can do the opposite.

The "implicit learning" study makes no sense at all. How could focusing your conscious mind disable your unconscious mind? I'm guessing that there was some kind of confounding factor... maybe smarter people are less likely to be mindful, and smarter people do better at implicit learning, for instance.