Improvements in Critical Thinking Performance Following Mindfulness Meditation Depend on Thinking Dispositions
Many claims have been made regarding the application of mindfulness meditation to the improvement of critical thinking skills, with some suggesting improved executive function as a mechanism. This study tests theoretical assumptions related to these claims. Sixty-five Irish university students took part in an active-controlled mixed factorial experiment designed to investigate the effects of a guided mindfulness meditation on the primary measures of executive function and critical thinking. The secondary measures assessed key thinking dispositions, including the need for cognition and actively open-minded thinking, state mindfulness and dispositional mindfulness. The 2 × 2 mixed analyses of variance showed no evidence of an effect of the interaction between time (pre vs. post) and group (mindfulness vs. sham meditation) on executive function indices (p < 0.39) or critical thinking performance (p = 0.11). No evidence was found for indirect effects of group allocation on critical thinking through either state mindfulness or executive function. Moderation models demonstrated evidence that the effects of the mindfulness meditation on critical thinking were conditional on need for cognition (b = −0.24 [−0.40, −0.08]) and actively open-minded thinking (b = −0.14 [−0.25, −0.04]) dispositions. In addition, participants who reported low levels of non-reactivity demonstrated decreased critical thinking performance following the mindfulness meditation, which was mediated by slower reaction times on the executive functioning task (b = −53.37 [−92.65, −14.08]). In summary, a brief guided mindfulness meditation appears to facilitate critical thinking for those low in need for cognition and actively open-minded thinking. However, it is unclear whether executive function is a mechanism underlying this relationship.
KeywordsCritical thinking Executive function Self-regulation Dual-process theory Thinking dispositions
This research was made possible by the award of a Galway Doctoral Research Scholarship to the first author. The authors would like to thank Ms. Nicola Hohensee for her assistance during data collection and Mr. Declan Coogan and Mr. Joseph Mee for the technical assistance.
CN: designed and executed the study, completed the data analysis and wrote the paper. MH: advised on the design, execution and analysis of the study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the paper.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Ethical approval for this study was granted by the NUI Galway Research Ethics Committee. Whilst informed consent was sought before participation in the study began, this information was not complete in order to reduce demand characteristics and ensure that expectation effects were equal across groups. Rather, participants were informed that the study focused on the effects of relaxation on attention and critical thinking and both conditions presented as a break during the experimental procedure to relax with a guided meditation. This type of deception is typical in psychological research and is an important control in mindfulness research (e.g. Mrazek et al. 2012). The word “mindfulness” was not mentioned in any recruiting or experimental materials. There was a full debriefing regarding the purpose of the study and the purpose of the deception following each lab session.
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