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, 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.”

Meditation Improves Emotional Behavior in Teachers, Study Shows

Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation showed they were less depressed, anxious or stressed, and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions, a report by stated.

The study, designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior, is published in the April issue of the journal “Emotion.”

“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry in the report. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”

A total of 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project and were chosen because their work is stressful and the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students, according to the report.

The study began after a meeting with USCF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, Paul Ekman, PhD, met with the Dalai Lama at his home, along with other Buddhist scholars and behavioral scientists.

The Dalai Lama to posed the question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions? Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace then developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion.

The program incorporated concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience; mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one’s body and feelings; and directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others, according to the report.

In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others, along with their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships, the report stated.

“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” Kemeny said in the report.