Wellbeing

Mindfulness isn’t working for men say scientists

By Kitty Knowles 21 April 2017
Mindfulness doesn't work for men. Pic: Getty/GlobalStock
Summary

Sorry gents.

We hate to burst your bubble, but today, mindfulness just isn’t as good for men as it is for women, new research reveals.

Does that mean it’s time for gents to throw away meditation mats?

No, here’s why…

What’s the big deal?

Mindfulness involves focusing your attention on the present, to appreciate the feelings and sensations you experience at any one time.

We’ve seen the trend boom in recent years, with meditation apps like Calm and Headspace leading the way for those wanting to practice independently.

This month however, researchers from Brown University found that engaging with mindfulness significantly helped women to overcome low mood — but not men.

The study deets

A total of 41 male and 36 female students took part in the study, published in this month’s Frontiers in Psychology. This included a 12-week academic class on mindfulness traditions with papers, tests, presentations – and three different hour-long meditation labs a week.

Co-author Harold Roth, a professor of religious studies, taught the test students contemplative practice from both Buddhist and Daoist traditions, who in turn filled out regular questionnaires ranking their mood.

Gendered findings

While women showed an overall 11.6% decline in ‘negative effect’ (marking a positive psychological outcome), men showed a 3.7% increase.

When it came to skills, women also made greater gains than men on four of five areas of mindfulness – especially in areas associated emotional improvement: how to approach emotions “with non-reactivity”, for example, and “how to be less self-critical and more kind with themselves”.

For men just one of the skills they learned appeared to relieve their low mood – “the ability to identify, describe and differentiate one’s emotions”.

But why?

The difference in outcome could be to do with the way that, stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract, co-author Professor Willoughby Britton said.

“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.”

“Facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, [but] it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.”

The positives

Firstly, the study should be seen as a breakthrough for women, who are generally more vulnerable to negative affect and depression, says Britton.

“Emotional disorders like depression in early adulthood are linked to a litany of negative trajectories that further disadvantage women, such as poor academic performance, school drop-out, early pregnancy and substance abuse,” she said.

Importantly, the findings also shouldn’t be read to suggest mindful men turn their backs on the practise. Men may simply need a different approach.

“Mindfulness is a little bit like a drug cocktail — there are a lot of ingredients and we’re not sure which ingredients are doing what,” Britton said of the findings.

“Using slightly more innovative designs to tailor to the needs of different populations is what’s called for.”