Intelligent decision-makers gather all the pertinent information and weigh the pros and cons dispassionately. This also includes gathering information that could prove unsettling or unpleasant. At least, that’s the theory.
However, the reality is often quite different. Due to what experts call cognitive bias, people tend to ignore potentially damaging information – even when it is available.
For example, they don’t want to discover whether an investment is no longer worthwhile, a medical test has confirmed an illness or a friend has betrayed their trust. The reason is that even thinking about negative information triggers fear and worry.
A recent study by Elliott Ash, Professor of Law, Economics, and Data Science at ETH Zurich, shows that people can reduce this tendency towards information avoidance through regular mindfulness meditation.
Managing negative emotions more effectively
The researchers define the practice of mindfulness meditation as sitting still with eyes closed, observing – but not responding to – breathing, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Numerous scientific studies have shown that practicing meditation regularly has a positive effect on both body and mind.
Meditating for just 15 minutes a day helps people relieve stress, increases their ability to concentrate, cuts their risk of depression, and enhances their productivity. Like in other studies, Ash and his co-authors showed that daily meditation boosts people’s ability to contend with negative emotions.
“The study participants who meditated every day for two weeks were better equipped to simply observe their negative emotions and accept them calmly,” Ash says. This positive development was not observed in members of the control group.
A desire to know what could go wrong
The study’s authors conclude that mindfulness meditation makes people more resilient to uncomfortable emotions, allowing them to process negative information more objectively.
“Someone who copes well with negative emotions will also want to know what could go wrong as a result of a particular decision,” Ash says.
In other words, meditation training could help people make better decisions. They are more comprehensively informed since they are more likely to consult information to which they might react negatively.
Two weeks of daily meditation
For their study, the researchers recruited 261 participants through an online platform and randomly divided them into two groups. One group meditated daily for 15 minutes, while the other listened to relaxing music .
Before and after the experiment, the study participants had to answer standardized questions to ascertain how well they dealt with negative information and how strongly they responded to emotions. Participants were asked, for example, if they wanted to receive potentially harmful information about their health, financial investments or personal relationships.