The list sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, let’s look a little closer at the empirical evidence…
Can Meditation Improve Performance at Work?
Firstly let’s look at ways that you might want to improve your performance at work. The following studies focus on cognition, attention, concentration, open-mindedness, forgetfulness and error-prone.
Cognition is the brain’s ability to acquire and understand information, knowledge through thought, experience, and the senses. All of which would be helpful at work. OK, let’s see what the research shows…
In a study conducted by Osnabrück University in Germany, 34 participants were divided into two groups. The mindfulness meditation group practised 10-minutes of meditation each day whilst the control group practised relaxation exercises over eight-weeks. Participants were given a task involving tracking two to five discs moving on a computer screen, among 16 identical discs that are also moving on the screen. The study found:
“improvements in specific cognitive functions as a result of engaging in meditation practice”
A study conducted by the University of Kentucky studied the effects of novice meditators who performed a validated psychomotor vigilance task.
“A psychomotor vigilance task is a sustained-attention, a reaction-timed task that measures the speed with which subjects respond to a visual stimulus“
The participants completed 40 minutes of meditation, nap or watched television, on six different days (two separate days for each condition). Those that meditated performed 10% better. The study concluded that:
“These results suggest that meditation provides at least a short-term performance improvement even in novice meditators”
A study conducted at the Shambhala Mountain Centre over a 3-month retreat consisted of 60 participants, divided into two groups of 30 participants each. The retreat group and the control group. The control group participated in week-long assessments but otherwise went about their normal daily activities. The retreat group resided at the Shambhala Mountain Centre and participated in a 3-month retreat. All participants were invited to participate in the 6-month, 1.5 years and 7 years of follow-up sessions. The Retreat Group practised daily 6 hourly meditation and 45 minute Four Immeasurable Meditation (compassion, loving-kindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity). The study concluded that
“intensive and continued meditation is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention”
A study of 100 people, 50 long-term meditators and a 50-person control group found that long-term meditation may result in increased attention processing. Years of meditation practise ranged between 4 and 46 years. MRI scans were analysed from both groups and significant differences were observed between meditators and controls. Specifically, concerning grey matter asymmetry in the medial parietal lobe. In addition, significant correlations between grey matter asymmetry and the number of meditation practice years were noted. The study concluded
“that long-term meditation may result in changes in attention processing”
A similar study conducted by Liverpool John Moores University included 40 meditators and 40 control group participants. The meditators received 3-hours of meditation training and were requested to meditate for 10 minutes a day. After 8 and 16 weeks, all participants completed a computerised Stroop task (a measure of attentional control) while the 64-channel EEG was recorded.
“The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may improve attention control”
A study conducted by the University of the Negev found that meditation reduces cognitive rigidity due to rigid and repetitive thought patterns, enabling more “open-mindedness” without being “blinded by past experience”.
“The authors conclude that mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be “blinded” by experience”
Recent research from Michigan University found that meditation altered brain activity and enabled meditators to detect and pay attention to errors. Thereby making them less error-prone. In this study, more than 200 female participants, who had never meditated before, were divided into two groups, meditators or control group. The meditators were guided through a 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise. This type of meditation focuses inward on your awareness on feelings, thoughts or sensations. After the meditation, participants were taken through a computerised distraction test. Researchers measured brain activity through an EEG. Researchers concluded that:
“Our findings showed that a single session of guided OM meditation modulates ERP” (ERP refers to error processing)