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Meditators Have More Willpower and Self-Control, Study Shows

People who practice meditation regularly are better at tasks requiring self-control because they are open to their own emotions, according to new research from the University of Toronto, Futurity.com reported.

“These results suggest that willpower or self-control may be sharpest in people who are sensitive and open to their own emotional experiences. Willpower, in other words, may relate to ‘emotional intelligence,’” Michael Inzlicht, associate professor of psychology at the University Toronto said in the report.

In a paper scheduled for publication in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the researchers looked at Error Related Negativity (ERN), which is an electrical signal that shows up in the brain within 100 ms of an error being committed, well before the conscious mind is aware of the error, the report stated.

“It’s kind of like an ‘uh-oh’ response, or cortical alarm bell,” Rimma Teper, co-author of the paper and PhD student said.

For the study, participants were asked about experience mediating and took a test to measure how mindful they were of the present moment, and how aware and accepting they were of their emotions. They were hooked up to an electroencephalograph and given a Stroop test, which shows them the word “red” spelled in green letters, and asked to say the color of the letters. This requires them to suppress the tendency to read the word, and instead concentrate on the actual colors, the report stated.

Meditators were not only generally better at the test than non-meditators, but also had stronger ERN responses. Also, those who did the best on the test were those who scored higher on emotional acceptance.

According to the study, the ERN may have a motivational or affective component, meaning it gives a bad feeling about failing a task, motivating someone to do better. Because meditators are more in tune with their emotions, they may pick up on this feeling more quickly and improve their behavior, according to Teper.

“Meditators are attuned to their emotions. They’re also good at regulating their emotions. It fits well with our results.”

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