We spend a lot of time in this space talking about mindfulness and its benefits. When you are mindful, you are paying active and open attention to the present. This allows you to see your thoughts, as well as your behaviors, from a distance. This can help you break bad habits and improve your behavior and hence improve your wellbeing.
But according to a new study, mindfulness can also inhibit implicit learning. "Our theory is that one learns habits — good or bad — implicitly, without thinking about them," says the study's lead author, Chelsea Stillman. In other words, you learn better when you are less aware of what you are doing, which seems counterintuitive.
In the study, two samples of adult participants took a test which "gauged their mindfulness character trait." The participants were then tested on their ability to learn "complex, probabilistic patterns, although test takers would not be aware of that." It turns out that the people who scored low on the mindfulness scale had higher reaction times and learned more.
Stillman says that suggests "mindfulness may help prevent formation of automatic habits — which is done through implicit learning — because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing."
Their findings are being presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
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