Researchers discover a link between meditation and how we respond to feedback


“The results suggest that the brains of meditators are less affected by negative feedback.”

Feedback is crucial for us to learn and grow in the multiple spheres of our lives. It helps us understand life and act in a positive and reflective manner. The way we react and process feedback pivots on our levels of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in found in the brain. The higher the levels of dopamine in our brain, the higher our chances of enjoying mental and physical health, which may further impact the way we react to positive and negative feedback.

Numerous studies suggest that regular meditation can be an effective way to attain mental and physical wellness. Recently, in a new study published in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience, researchers Paul Knytl and Bertram Opitz from the University of Surrey, discovered a connection between meditation and how human beings respond to feedback.

The researchers chose 35 participants who were a combination of proficient, beginner and non-meditators. They trained them to select images associated with a reward; each pair of images had varying prospects of a reward. There were images that resulted in a reward eighty percent of the time and those that resulted in a reward twenty percent of the time.

The participants were connected to an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to track and record brain wave patterns. In due course, participants learned to select the pairing with the higher outcome. Outcomes from the EEG showed that all three groups responded in a similar manner to positive feedback. However, the neurological response to negative feedback was exorbitant in the non-meditators group, followed by the novice group and then by the experienced meditators group. The results suggest that the brains of meditators are less affected by negative feedback. They react to feedback in a more impartial manner compared to non-meditators. This may be a result of altered dopamine levels in the brain caused by meditation.

Previous studies indicate that dopamine in our brain affects the way we respond to feedback. It is difficult to learn and process information for patients with Parkinson’s disease because of highly reduced dopamine levels in the brain. The present study suggests that meditation may increase dopamine levels in the brain, thus altering feedback processing.

Researcher Paul Knytl who is also a lead author and Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Surrey said "Humans have been meditating for over 2000 years, but the neural mechanisms of this practice are still relatively unknown. These findings demonstrate that, on a deep level, meditators respond to feedback in a more even-handed way than non-meditators, which may help to explain some of the psychological benefits they experience from the practice."

Bertram Opitz, a fellow researcher and a professor in Neuroimaging and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Surrey, said "Meditation is a powerful tool for the body and the mind; it can reduce stress and improve immune function. What we have found is that it can also impact on how we receive feedback, i.e. if we quickly learn from our mistakes or if we need to keep making them before we find the right answer.”

He further added, "If it is the latter this can impact how individuals perform in the workplace or classroom. Such individuals may benefit from meditation to increase their productivity or prevent them from falling behind in their studies."

Thus, regular practice of meditation trains our minds to learn faster from feedback or information acquired through past experiences. It further rewires our brain in such a manner that it produces psychological benefits and makes us better equipped to deal with positive and negative feedback.


Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Surrey. (Content may be edited for style) (The photograph provided bears no relation to the study.)