Unique type of meditation boosts the brain's ability to spot mistakes

If you frequently make small mistakes, a unique type of meditation may help change that. According to a new study out of Michigan State University, open monitoring meditation — as opposed to mindfulness meditation — triggers neural activity changes in the brain when it comes to the signal that occurs when someone notices that a mistake has been made.

Simply put, when we make a mistake and notice that mistake — such as entering the wrong number in a spreadsheet — a signal called 'error positivity' happens in the brain approximately half a second later. This signal is linked to the conscious recognition of the fact that a mistake happened, enabling the individual to fix the problem.

Researchers selected volunteers who had no history of meditation and instructed them to spend 20 minutes in open monitoring meditation. Unlike mindfulness meditation, this version involves focusing inward on what is happening in one's mind and body without latching onto any given thought.

Using an EEG and a computerized distraction test, the study found that a single session of open monitoring meditation caused a strengthening of the signal that occurs after making a mistake. This wasn't enough to have a positive impact on actual task performance, the researchers note, but indicates that regularly practicing this type of meditation may ultimately result in an improved ability to spot and fix mistakes.

One of the study's authors, Jason Moser, said:

These findings are a strong demonstration of what just 20 minutes of meditation can do to enhance the brain's ability to detect and pay attention to mistakes. It makes us feel more confident in what mindfulness meditation might really be capable of for performance and daily functioning right there in the moment.