A recent study discovered that mindfulness helps women better control their negative thoughts, aka “negative affect.” But men? Not so much.
Women, in general, tend to practice mindful meditation more than men, but no one thought that gender difference had anything to do with the effectiveness of mindful meditation.
The recent Brown University study along with research published in two other studies under review—may pinpoint how these differences impact women and men.
Researchers examined 41 male and 36 female students and their responses to a 12-week academic class on mindfulness traditions. The class required students to write papers, take tests, and make presentations. It also included weekly three-hour long meditation labs.
The study’s researchers asked participants to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and end of each class. Eurekalert reports that researchers found:
- There was no statistically significant difference in the amount of meditation practice by gender.
- Men and women entered the class with no difference in their degree of negative affect. The students also did not leave the class showing a significant difference in negative affect because “… while women showed a significant 11.6 percent decline on the survey’s standardized score (which is a positive psychological outcome), men showed a non-significant 3.7 percent increase in their scores.”
- Both genders improved their meditation skills, and gained mindfulness and self-compassion skills and their scores increased significantly. Overall, “women made greater gains than men on four of five areas of mindfulness.”
Women and mental health
Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior and of behavioral and social sciences at Brown and the study’s co-lead author, Rahil Rojiani, a Brown graduate and medical student at Yale, hope this research will help improve mental health care for women.
If women truly benefit from mindful meditation, this finding could further depression treatment options. This finding is important because women tend to be “more vulnerable” to negative affect.
“The gender gap in mental health has been inadequately targeted and often only within the standard medical arsenal of pharmacological treatment,” Rojiani says.
“Our study is one of the first to explore the effects of mindfulness across gender.”
A different path for men
Study researchers wonder if the problem with men and mindfulness isn’t that men can’t feel and process their thoughts. Men just don’t respond to most mindfulness curriculum.
Britton says, in general, most mindfulness courses better address the ways women process emotions. For example, women tend to ruminate and men tend to distract.
“”For people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for [improving] that,” Britton says.
“[But] for people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive.”
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