Mindfulness meditation found to be less effective for men, according to researchers

Think the secret to inner peace lies in meditation? If you’re a man, think again. In a new study by researchers from Brown University, the team found that practicing mindfulness meditation does wonders for women while doing the opposite for men, reported the DailyMail.co.uk. Mindfulness meditation, wrote the researchers, is the practice of “intentionally and non-judgmentally directing one’s attention to the present moment, often by focusing on a particular salient sensation, such as one’s breath.”

Although touted as a way to treat depression and anxiety, the researchers noted that there have been no studies to investigate the effects of mindfulness meditation across genders. The researchers used this as the springboard for their study, which involved 77 Brown University undergraduates who took a 12-week course that focused on mindfulness training. The components of the course included papers, tests, presentations, weekly seminars, and three hour-long meditation sessions. The meditation sessions incorporated “approximately 30 min of a specific contemplative practice from Buddhist or Daoist traditions.”

During the study, each student engaged in an average of over 41 hours of meditation during class and outside of it. The students were also asked to fill out questionnaires at the beginning and at the end of the class.

By the end of the study, researchers were presented with surprising results. “Both women and men improved significantly in most measures,” the researchers wrote. The practical results were more varied, however. Researchers found a discrepancy between the groups: “Our results suggest that women benefited more from school-based mindfulness training than men.” (Related: Meditation linked to happiness and positive behavior).

The difference lay in how men and women usually react to negative emotions and situations. In the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the team indicated that women tend to “ruminate” and immerse themselves in “self-critical behavior”, which made the practice of mindful meditation better for the 36 female students. By contrast, men “’externalize’ by distracting themselves or engaging the environment”, meaning that mindful meditation was more stressful an experience for the 41 male students.

Doctor Willoughby B. Britton, one of the co-authors, went on to declare that mindfulness meditation was fitting for those who were already willing to confront or expose themselves to difficult or negative feelings. For those who were suddenly forced to expose themselves to those feelings, mindfulness meditation was “counterproductive”. The researchers concluded their study by stating, “Women benefit more by demonstrating decreased negative affect and improved mindfulness and self-compassion skills. Conversely, men did not show improvements in negative affect, nor did improvements in mindfulness and self-compassion translate to improved affect as it did in women.”

In a statement to the DailyMail.co.uk, Britton said: “While facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.”

If further research can support their hypothesis, then the findings of this study may become vital to designers of mindfulness courses, as well as mindfulness researchers.

So if mindfulness meditation won’t work on men, what can? In their study, the researchers suggested more “active methods of mindfulness training”, citing yoga or Tai Chi as possible options since these were thought of as more suitable to the coping strategies typically used by men. The team also noted that previous research has shown the efficacy of physical activity on the stress reduction of men and women with greater masculinity ratings.

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