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Lions Roar : January 2018
For example, one study found that a brief loving-kindness meditation reduced prejudice toward homeless people, while another found that a brief mind- fulness training decreased unconscious bias against black people and elderly peo- ple. In a study by Adam Lueke and col- leagues, white participants who received a brief mindfulness training demonstrated less biased behavior (not just attitudes) toward black participants in a trust game. However, social bias isn’t the only kind of mental bias mindfulness appears to reduce. For example, several studies convincingly show that mindfulness probably reduces sunk-cost bias, which is our tendency to stay invested in a losing proposition. Mindfulness also seems to reduce our natural tendency to focus on the negative things in life. In one study, participants reported on their general mindfulness levels, then briefly viewed photos that induced strong positive emotion (like photos of babies), strong negative emotion (like photos of people in pain), or neither, while having their brains scanned. More mindful partic- ipants were less reactive to negative photos and showed higher indications of positive feeling when seeing the positive photos. According to the authors, this supports the contention that mindfulness decreases the negativity bias, something other studies support, too. Meditation does have an impact on physical health— but it’s modest. Many claims have been made about mindfulness and physical health, but sometimes these claims are hard to sub- stantiate or may be mixed up with other effects. That said, there is some good evi- dence that meditation affects physiologi- cal indices of health. For example, practicing meditation les- sons the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, partic- ularly among long-term meditators. Also, meditators seem to have increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme implicated in longer cell life and, therefore, longevity. But there’s a catch. “The differences found [between meditators and non- meditators] could be due to factors like education or exercise, each of which has its own buffering effect on brains,” write Goleman and Davidson in Altered Traits. “Then there’s self-selection: perhaps peo- ple with the brain changes reported in these studies choose to stick with medita- tion while others do not.” In other words, we should use caution when champion- ing results. Meditation isn’t good for everyone all the time. Some seem to believe mindfulness prac- tice will invariably induce a sense of peace and calm. While this can be the experience for many, it is not the experi- ence for all. At times, sitting quietly with oneself can be a difficult—even painful— experience. For individuals who have experienced some sort of trauma, sitting and meditating can at times bring up recent or sometimes decades-old painful memories and experiences that they may not be prepared to confront. In a new study published in the jour- nal PLOS ONE, Jared Lindahl and col- leagues interviewed 100 meditators about “challenging” experiences. They found PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS