Too Aware? The Downside of Mindfulness Revealed

Posted on November 22, 2013

"Mindfulness" is the watchword of gurus and lifestyle coaches everywhere. But too much awareness could prevent the formation of good habits, new research suggests.

People high in mindfulness — a state of active attention to what's going on in the present moment — are worse at automatic learning, according to the study.

"Our theory is that one learns habits — good or bad — implicitly, without thinking about them," Stillman said in a statement. "We wanted to see if mindfulness impeded implicit learning." [9 Healthy Habits You Can Do in 1 Minute]

Stillman and her colleagues recruited adults and tested their level of mindfulness. Next, each participant completed one of two implicit learning tasks. Both tasks involved watching a series of colored dots on a computer screen and responding when a certain color showed up in a certain location. For example, they might be shown a red dot on the left side of the screen, a red dot on the right and then a green dot on the left — the last dot displayed was their cue to press a button. Unbeknownst to the participants, however, the green dot on the left side of the screen would always show up two beats after the red dot on the left. If they automatically caught on to this hidden warning, their reaction times would be faster, indicating implicit learning.

The scores on these tests revealed that people who were less mindful reacted more quickly. In other words, the less they were actively engaged, the better they absorbed the patterns in the tests.

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Source material from Livescience