Mindfulness does not help men, the first study to look at the gender divide in meditation suggests.
Although recent research has shown that mindfulness meditation, the practice of directing attention to present sensations and feelings, can be beneficial, nobody has checked whether the results were the same for both sexes.
But when Brown University broke down results they found a clear difference for men and women. While practising significantly helped women overcome a downcast mood, it actually made men feel slightly worse than before they began.
“That was the surprising part,”said Dr Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behaviour and of behavioural and social sciences.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a widespread phenomenon that researchers hadn’t bothered to investigate.”
The study followed 41 male and 36 female students over the course of a full, 12-week academic class on mindfulness traditions which included three one hour-long meditation labs a week.
Over that time the average student had engaged in more than 41 hours of meditation in class and outside.
But while women’s moods improved by an average of 11.6 points over the trial, the average mood of men got slightly worse.
The researchers believe that the traditional way in which men and women deal with emotional distress could be behind the disparity.
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“The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” added Dr Briton.
“So for people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for improving that. 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.
“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.”
Dr Brown said since conducting the study she has found the same gender divide in two other published studies, and will shortly publish new details on her findings.
The research was published in Frontiers in Psychology.