"Rimma Teper has always found her meditation sessions relaxing and therapeutic. Now, as a doctoral candidate in psychology at UTSC (University of Toronto, Scarborough College), she’s helping to understand why meditation is also good for boosting self-control.
Compared to non-meditators, those who meditate show more
self-control, Teper has discovered in her research. This is linked to
their awareness and acceptance of their emotions. '[Meditators are]
attuned to their own emotions,' Teper says.
'They’re aware of how they’re feeling and they’re also good at
regulating their emotions. The results suggest these traits account for
the better self-control we see in meditators.'
Teper was interested in a manifestation of self-control that
psychologists call 'executive function' — the ability to pay attention to
appropriate stimuli and react appropriately. It’s what keeps us studying
when we’d rather watch TV, or forces us to go outside for that morning
jog instead of going back to sleep. Earlier studies had shown that
meditators exhibited higher levels of executive function than
non-meditators, but the reason for this still had to be pinned down.
Most meditation traditions emphasize two major practices: awareness
of the present moment, and acceptance of emotional states. Teper
suspected that emotional acceptance was the key to the better
To test her premise, Teper gave the meditators and non-meditators in
her study a test that required high executive control. She then measured
their error-related negativity (ERN), which generates an electrical
signal in the brain within 100 milliseconds of an error being committed
during a task, well before the conscious mind is aware of the error. 'It’s kind of like an ‘uh-oh’ response, or a cortical alarm bell,' Teper
The meditators did better at the task than the non-meditators and
also had stronger ERNs. What’s even more interesting is that the
meditators who did best on the test were the ones who tested highest for
emotional awareness. Since ERN triggers a negative feeling that
motivates people to do better, meditators may be more aware of that
feeling and therefore quicker to improve.
'Meditators are attuned to their emotions. They’re also good at
regulating their emotions,' says Teper. '[This] fits well with our
by Kurt Kleiner - UTSC Commons Fall 2013
Teper R, Inzlicht M. Meditation, mindfulness and executive control: the importance of emotional acceptance and brain-based performance monitoring. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2013; 8(1): 85-92.