Mindfulness meditation counteracts self-control depletion.
ABSTRACT Mindfulness meditation describes a set of different mental techniques to train attention and awareness. Trait mindfulness and extended mindfulness interventions can benefit self-control. The present study investigated the short-term consequences of mindfulness meditation under conditions of limited self-control resources. Specifically, we hypothesized that a brief period of mindfulness meditation would counteract the deleterious effect that the exertion of self-control has on subsequent self-control performance. Participants who had been depleted of self-control resources by an emotion suppression task showed decrements in self-control performance as compared to participants who had not suppressed emotions. However, participants who had meditated after emotion suppression performed equally well on the subsequent self-control task as participants who had not exerted self-control previously. This finding suggests that a brief period of mindfulness meditation may serve as a quick and efficient strategy to foster self-control under conditions of low resources.
- SourceAvailable from: Malte Friese[Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The strength model of self-control has inspired large amounts of research and contributed to a deeper under-standing of the temporal dynamics underlying self-control. Several studies have identified factors that can counteract self-control depletion, but relatively little is known about factors that can prevent depletion effects. Here we tested the hypothesis that a brief period of personal prayer would buffer self-control depletion effects. Participants either briefly prayed or thought freely before engaging (or not engaging) in an emotion suppression task. All participants completed a Stroop task subsequently. Individuals who had thought freely before suppressing emotions showed impaired Stroop performance compared to those who had not suppressed emotions. This effect did not occur in individuals who had prayed at the beginning of the study. These results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 03/2014; 51:56-59. · 2.22 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behavior to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria until we eat foods that enhance their fitness. We review several potential mechanisms for microbial control over eating behavior including microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood, changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain. We also review the evidence for alternative explanations for cravings and unhealthy eating behavior. Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.BioEssays 08/2014; · 5.42 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Praying over longer time spans can foster self-control. Less is known about the immediate, short-term consequences of praying. Here we investigated the possibility that praying may counteract self-control depletion. Participants suppressed or did not suppress thoughts about a white bear before engaging in a brief period of either personal prayer or free thought. Then, all participants completed a Stroop task. As expected, thought suppression led to poorer Stroop performance in the free thought, but not in the prayer condition. This effect emerged on a dependent variable devoid of any religious or moral associations (Stroop task). Possible mediating mechanisms and directions for future research are discussed.Consciousness and Cognition 09/2014; 29C:90-95. · 2.31 Impact Factor
Mindfulness meditation counteracts self-control depletion
Malte Friesea,⇑, Claude Messnerb, Yves Schaffnera
aDepartment of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstr. 60/62, 4055 Basel, Switzerland
bDepartment of Business Administration, University of Bern, Engehaldenstr. 4, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
a r t i c l ei n f o
Received 29 August 2011
Available online 5 February 2012
a b s t r a c t
Mindfulness meditation describes a set of different mental techniques to train attention
and awareness. Trait mindfulness and extended mindfulness interventions can benefit
self-control. The present study investigated the short-term consequences of mindfulness
meditation under conditions of limited self-control resources. Specifically, we hypothe-
sized that a brief period of mindfulness meditation would counteract the deleterious effect
that the exertion of self-control has on subsequent self-control performance. Participants
who had been depleted of self-control resources by an emotion suppression task showed
decrements in self-control performance as compared to participants who had not sup-
pressed emotions. However, participants who had meditated after emotion suppression
performed equally well on the subsequent self-control task as participants who had not
exerted self-control previously. This finding suggests that a brief period of mindfulness
meditation may serve as a quick and efficient strategy to foster self-control under condi-
tions of low resources.
? 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The literature on self-control depletion draws an unflattering picture of individuals low in self-control resources. They
break their diets more readily (Vohs & Heatherton, 2000), give in to the allure of alcohol more easily (Muraven, Collins, &
Nienhaus, 2002), cheat more often (Mead, Baumeister, Gino, Schweitzer, & Ariely, 2009), manage their emotions less effi-
ciently (Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998), perform poorer on intellectual tasks (Schmeichel, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2003),
and spend more money on impulse (Vohs & Faber, 2007) as compared to individuals with more resources.
The psychological literature suggests that self-control failures contribute to many individual and societal problems such
as obesity, drug use, aggression, unwanted pregnancies, or crime, to name just a few (for overviews, see Baumeister, Heath-
erton, & Tice, 1994; Vohs & Baumeister, 2011). Given the far-reaching consequences of self-control failures, one important
challenge is to identify means fostering self-control even under conditions of low resources. The aim of the present study is
to test the idea that a brief period of mindfulness meditation counteracts the deleterious effects of self-control depletion.
The strength model of self-control by Baumeister and colleagues posits that self-control in different domains relies on a
common, limited resource (Baumeister, Schmeichel, & Vohs, 2007a; Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007b). According to this mod-
el, exerting self-control in one domain depletes this resource to a certain extent and increases chances of self-control failure
in any other task requiring self-control thereafter. A host of studies delivered evidence consistent with this model (see
Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010, for a recent meta-analysis).
1053-8100/$ - see front matter ? 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
⇑Corresponding author. Fax: +41 61 267 06 28.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (M. Friese).
Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2012) 1016–1022
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Consciousness and Cognition
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/concog
In light of the considerable consequences of self-control failures, researchers have recently begun to investigate the psy-
chological and physiological processes that allow for good self-control even under conditions of low resources. Gailliot and
colleagues (2007) showed that a dose of glucose improves self-control. The administration of glucose may be a reasonable
strategy to improve self-control if the glucose derives from healthy products. Typically, healthy products contain glucose
from polysaccharides. The metabolism requires considerable time to actually make glucose available from polysaccharides,
which prevents many healthy products from serving as a quick counterstrategy to self-control depletion. More fast-acting
glucose (from monosaccharides or disaccharides) is contained in many unhealthy sweet snacks or drinks that are often con-
sumed in addition to one’s regular diet. Therefore, the consumption of high-energy sweet snacks may not be a wise strategy
to counter self-control depletion in the long run. However, not only glucose consumption counteracts low resources, but also
internal psychological processes. An abstract information-processing mode activates and leads to a focus on personal stan-
dards and values, which in turn fosters self-control (Agrawal & Wan, 2009; Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Twenge, 2005).
For example, participants who had thought and written about one of their core values after having been depleted of self-con-
trol resources persisted longer on a tedious task (a numeric puzzle) than participants who had thought and written about the
values of a different person (Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009).
In the present study, we investigated the possibility that a brief period of mindfulness meditation may be another way to
boost self-control after resource depletion. Mindfulness meditation has been incorporated into several psychological inter-
ventions in medical and mental health settings with good efficacy (e.g., Baer, 2003; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach,
2004; Hayes, 2004; Hoelzel et al., 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and in self-directed meditation trainings for laypersons in wes-
In mindfulness meditation, meditators strive to bring their complete attention to the present moment in a non-judgmen-
tal, accepting way (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). In a successful mindfulness meditation, meditators experience current feelings,
thoughts, and bodily sensations with all senses very clearly and plainly, as something that passes by, without judging or
evaluating it, and without having to act on these sensations. In a typical mindfulness exercise, meditators aim to focus their
attention on a particular experience and become fully aware of this experience such as one’s breath and the sensations it
evokes in various parts of the body. Practiced regularly over a longer time span of months and even years, this state of mind-
fulness is considered to convert into a stable, dispositional tendency to be mindful (Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, &
Toney, 2006; Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007).
The effects of mindfulness meditation have mostly been investigated in the context of clinical practice and research
where it has been proven useful for a great number of psychological disorders and well-being in general (for an overview,
see Brown et al., 2007). In recent years, growing evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation may also be beneficial for
mechanisms involved in self-control. For example, it has been shown to improve emotion regulation (Baer, Smith, & Allen,
2004; Brown & Ryan, 2003) and aspects of attention regulation (Hodgins & Adair, 2010; Jha, Krompinger, & Baime, 2007),
which is a crucial aspect of self-control processes (Baumeister et al., 1994; Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999). In addition, it is asso-
ciated with improvements in executive functioning such as working memory and response inhibition (Chan & Woollacott,
2007; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010) that subsequently led to improved socioemotional functioning
and emotion regulation (Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong, & Gelfand, 2010; Sahdra et al., 2011). More generally, there is preli-
minary evidence that meditation training can result in increased control and more efficient use of limited brain resources
(Slagter et al., 2007).
Most of the published work has investigated the effects of mindfulness as a trait (as assessed with established mindful-
ness inventories, e.g., Baer et al., 2006; Brown & Ryan, 2003), often comparing experienced meditators with non-meditators,
or employed meditation interventions usually lasting over periods of several weeks or months that compared the effects of
these interventions with control groups (e.g., waiting lists; Brown et al., 2007; Hölzel et al., 2011). Much less research has
investigated the effect of brief mindfulness interventions (lasting only several minutes) on various indicators of emotional,
cognitive, and behavioral functioning (Brown et al., 2007). Some of these studies support the idea that even briefly intro-
duced states of mindfulness could foster self-control. For example, participants who had engaged in a brief mindfulness
meditation exercise showed a reduced negativity to repetitive thoughts (Feldman, Greeson, & Senville, 2010), a reduced dys-
phoric mood compared to a rumination and a distraction control groups (Broderick, 2005), and better emotion regulation as
indicated by lower self-reported negative affect in response to negative pictures and a greater willingness to expose oneself
to negative pictures (Arch & Craske, 2006, see also Erisman & Roemer, 2010).
Most relevant for present purposes are two studies that can be interpreted as reporting preliminary evidence for an im-
proved ability to control a dominant response tendency after a mindfulness induction. First, a 9-min focused breathing exer-
cise led to less spider-avoiding behavior as compared to control conditions in spider fearful participants (Hooper, Davies,
Davies, & McHugh, 2011). Second, participants who were made mindful by means of a raisin-eating task (Kabat-Zinn,
1990) displayed less aggressive behavior after a social-rejection feedback than participants in a control condition, withstand-
ing a possible impulse to aggress against the person who delivered the negative feedback (Heppner et al., 2008).
In sum, growing evidence demonstrates relations of trait mindfulness and mindfulness training studies on outcomes
associated with executive functioning and self-control. Additional preliminary evidence points to the possibility that even
very brief mindfulness manipulations may temporarily foster self-control. The present study adds to this work by focusing
on the immediate effects of mindfulness meditation on self-control. That is, we investigated effects of a single, brief period of
mindfulness meditation on self-control performance. Importantly, while extant research has focused on the effects of mind-
fulness under ‘normal’ conditions, the present research adds a dynamic element by examining the potential benefits of
M. Friese et al./Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2012) 1016–1022
mindfulness on self-control performance specifically under conditions of low resources. Under such conditions, self-control
success is at risk (Baumeister et al., 2007a, 2007b), and individuals are in particular need for an efficient stewardship of re-
sources. Even though prior research in the context of the strength model of self-control suggests that it is often difficult for
brief experimental manipulations to foster self-control for participants with full resources (e.g., Gailliot et al., 2007; Muraven
& Slessareva, 2003; Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009; Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007), we assumed that a bolstering
effect would be observable after self-control had been temporarily weakened.
The idea that meditation may be an appropriate means to counteract self-control depletion is also corroborated by work
on Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan, 1995). Based on research showing that meditation can change activity in brain
areas implicated in self-control (e.g., Cahn & Polich, 2006; Tang et al., 2007), Kaplan (2001) proposed (but did not test)
the hypothesis that a brief period of meditation would restore the ability for directed attention, a construct closely related
to self-control resources (Kaplan & Berman, 2010).
In sum, we hypothesized that a brief period of mindfulness meditation would counteract the effects of self-control deple-
tion. To this end, we approached participants of a 3-day introductory seminar on mindfulness meditation and asked them to
take part in a short psychological study. We expected that participants who had exerted self-control (suppressing emotions)
would perform worse on a subsequent self-control task as compared to participants in a control condition. We further as-
sumed that participants who had meditated after emotion suppression would show less performance impairment than par-
ticipants who had not meditated.
2.1. Participants and design
Sixty-six participants (Mage= 43.27, SDage= 11.91, 40 women) were assigned to one of three conditions: ‘no emotion sup-
pression’, ‘emotion suppression’ and ‘emotion suppression plus meditation’. They received a chocolate bar in return. There
were no significant differences between conditions in terms of age (F < 1, p > .55) or gender (v2= 1.78, p = .411).
Participants were approached at the end of the second day of a 3-day introductory meditation seminar in various German
and Swiss cities. In these seminars, participants learned basic meditative skills such as relaxing, attending to and accepting
ongoing thoughts, feelings, or sensations, visualizing, and using intuition (Bishop et al., 2004; Hölzel et al., 2011). The aim of
the seminar was to teach participants skills to allow them to reach physical and mental relaxation and reduce stress with the
means of various mental techniques. An experienced instructor guided participants through various meditation exercises be-
fore they had in turn the opportunity to practice each of these exercises independently. A particular focus lay on mindfulness
meditation exercises in which participants learned to become aware of and direct their attention to sensations and experi-
ences that they usually did not attend to. For example, they learned to attend to the sensations of their chest moving with the
rhythm of breathing, focusing attention on this experience and redirecting attention to these sensations whenever it had
turned to something different. Similar exercises dealt with sensations and observations of certain muscles (e.g., in the neck,
the arms) in different bodily positions such as a comfortable sitting position or lying on a mattress on the floor. In addition,
they were guided through a mental tour to become aware of things in their lives that they were particularly comfortable
with at that point in time, or particularly uncomfortable, what was important in their lives and what was less important with
the aim of finding acceptance and clarity for issues that felt previously unresolved. The seminars were independent from
ideological, philosophical, or religious organizations.
On the second day, at the end of the official seminar agenda and with the consent of the course leader, the experimenter
asked seminar attendants whether they would participate in a research study. Participants took part in groups of seven to
seventeen. They were assigned to one of three experimental conditions. First, participants completed the resource manipu-
lation task. Then, they engaged in an intermediate task for 5 min, which was either a line-drawing task (no emotion suppres-
sion and emotion suppression conditions) or meditation (emotion suppression plus meditation condition). Finally, all
participants completed a version of the d2 Test of Attention (Brickenkamp, 1981) as the measure of self-control depletion,
provided demographic information and were debriefed.
2.3.1. Manipulation of self-control resources
A sequence of five video spots (6.5 min in total) taken from www.youtube.com was shown to each group of participants
via a silver screen. All spots were intended to elicit disgust emotions in participants by showing, for example, a doctor pulling
a nymph out of a person’s neck, or a close-up of someone squeezing a massive pimple on another person’s back. Participants
in the no suppression condition were asked to watch the video naturally and to allow all emotions that may arise in response
to it. Participants in the suppression and the suppression plus meditation conditions were asked to suppress all emotions
that may arise in response to the video so that it would be impossible to tell from their facial expression what they felt.
M. Friese et al./Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2012) 1016–1022
Emotion suppression has repeatedly been used to deplete self-control resources (Hagger et al., 2010). All instructions were
given in writing, not verbally. Despite the assessment in groups, participants were unaware of the other experimental
2.3.2. Intermediate tasks
Participants in the no suppression and suppression conditions completed up to six connect-the-dots figures in which the
connected dots formed mundane objects (e.g., elephant, airplane). The task was chosen to be neither boring nor resource
demanding. Participants in the suppression plus meditation condition were asked to meditate following the procedures they
had learnt in the seminar. Both intermediate tasks lasted 5 min.
2.3.3. d2 Test of attention
The d2 is a widely established and well-validated standardized test of attention and concentration (Brickenkamp, 1981).
The test consists of ds and ps, which are shown in 14 rows with 47 characters each. Each character is marked with one to four
apostrophes on the top and/or at the bottom (e.g., two on the top and two at the bottom in the case of four dashes). Partic-
ipants are instructed to cross out as many d characters with two apostrophes as possible without committing errors of com-
mission or errors of omission. The d2 test is structurally similar to the ‘‘crossing-out-letters task’’ that is often used in
research on the strength model of self-control (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998; Hagger et al., 2010). It re-
quires the control of attention as the test-takers need to quickly and reliably discriminate between adjacent and similarly
looking, but slightly different letters. In addition, the d2 requires inhibitory control as the participants have to inhibit the
impulse to cross out very similarly looking ds with more or less than two apostrophes and similarly looking ps with one
to four apostrophes while at the same time they are instructed to go fast and to commit no errors. Thus, with attention
and inhibitory control the d2 test draws on two hallmarks of self-control more generally (Baumeister et al., 2007a,
2007b). The d2 has been successfully used previously as a measure of self-control strength (Hui et al., 2009) and performance
on the d2 is positively related with long-term meditation experience (Moore & Malinowski, 2009).
Participants started to work on the d2 simultaneously. Every 20 s the experimenter gave a sign and participants started
with a new row. Participants were instructed to work as fast as possible without committing errors. We employed the most
widely used indicator for overall performance on this test as our dependent variable (i.e., the total number of items pro-
cessed minus errors, TN-E; Brickenkamp, 1981). However, almost identical results emerged for other indicators of perfor-
mance such as the total number of items processed (TN) and the concentration performance (CP: TN-errors of commission).
An independent pretest with 24 participants showed that it was more exhausting to suppress emotions during the dis-
gust-eliciting films than to let flow emotions (mean of two manipulation check questions: ‘How exhausting was it for you to
follow the instructions during the film clip?’ and ‘How much did you have to concentrate to follow the instructions during
the film clip?’, Cronbach’s a = .85, 7-point scale ranging from 0 to 6; Mno suppress= 1.21, SDno suppress= 1.16; Msuppress= 3.25,
SDsuppress= 1.45; t(22) = 3.81, p = .001, d = 1.62). The same pretest showed that suppressing emotions during the films im-
paired subsequent performance on the d2-test (Mno
press= 95.91; t(22) = 2.29, p = .032, d = 0.98), indicating that successful performance on the d2 test requires self-control
suppress= 561.33, SDnosuppress= 53.20; Msuppress= 488.92, SDsup-
3.2. Main study
In the main study, d2 performance was analyzed with a one-way between-subjects ANOVA with three conditions (no
suppression, suppression, suppression plus meditation). This analysis revealed a significant main effect (Mno suppress= 462.44,
formance as compared to the no suppression condition (t(63) = 2.35, p = .022, d = 0.59). Corroborating hypotheses further,
performance in the suppression plus meditation condition was significantly better than in the suppression condition
(t(63) = 2.16, p = .035, d = 0.54) while the no suppression and suppression plus meditation conditions did not differ (t < 1,
p = .723, d = 0.09; all analyses two-tailed). Thus, participants who had meditated after emotion suppression showed a similar
d2-performance as participants who had not exerted self-control in the first task.
suppress= 72.77; Msuppress= 415.92, SDsuppress= 65.81; Msup+med= 455.42, SDsup+med= 55.54; F(2,63) = 3.50, p = .036,
p= .100; see Fig. 1). A priori defined contrast analyses showed that, as expected, emotion suppression led to poorer d2 per-
A brief period of mindfulness meditation counteracted the effects of self-control depletion and led to similar levels of per-
formance on a task requiring self-control as compared to a control condition that did not exert self-control previously. By
M. Friese et al./Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2012) 1016–1022
contrast, another group that was depleted of self-control resources and subsequently engaged in a number-drawing task in-
stead of mindfulness meditation showed the expected impairment in self-control performance.
This study complements recent research on the effects of mindfulness meditation on attention processes (Hodgins &
Adair, 2010; Jha et al., 2007) as it shows beneficial effects of meditation in a task requiring attention control and inhibition.
It extends these studies in at least two important ways. First, we investigated an immediate, short-term effect of a brief per-
iod of mindfulness meditation as compared to effects after several days, weeks, or months of meditation training, or differ-
ences between regular meditators or non-meditators that were not under investigation here. Second, and more centrally, we
focused on a context in which individuals are in particular need for an efficient handling of mental resources, that is, after
These results set the stage for further investigations that will address several critical questions on the relationship be-
tween mindfulness meditation and self-control after resource depletion. One critical issue refers to the mediating processes
behind the observed effect. While the positive effects of mindfulness in general have been intensively researched in the last
two decades, the underlying psychological processes that would allow for a deeper understanding why mindfulness is so
broadly beneficial are not yet well understood (e.g., Baer, 2007; Brown et al., 2007; Hoelzel et al., 2011). This is true for
the present findings as well. In the following, we speculate about two possible mechanisms that may have contributed to
the observed effect. First, a central aspect of mindfulness meditation is to increase awareness of acute inner experiences
(e.g., Bishop et al., 2004; Brown et al., 2007). Increased self-awareness in turn has been shown to reduce the deleterious ef-
fects of self-control depletion (Alberts, Martijn, & de Vries, 2011), leading to the hypothesis that self-awareness may have
been one mechanism that can account for the present findings. Second, mindfulness meditation may have led to a feeling
of deep relaxation (Baer, 2003), which could have helped to boost self-control performance thereafter (Tyler & Burns,
2008). Even though both of these potential mechanisms may turn out to have some explanatory value, it is conceivable that
it may not be a single mechanism that is responsible for the positive effects of mindfulness in the present study, but that
there may be different processes contributing jointly, just as a number of different mechanisms have been discussed with
respect to the beneficial effects of mindfulness more generally (Brown et al., 2007; Hölzel et al., 2011). When investigating
these issues it will be important for future research to also employ different initial self-control tasks and different dependent
variables in order to find out how generalizable the counteracting effect of mindfulness on self-control depletion is. Although
various self-control tasks share a common ground (i.e., that they require self-control), self-control is a multi-faceted con-
struct with different domains (e.g., emotion control, attention control, inhibitory control), in which each task has further spe-
cific qualities and requirements (Duckworth & Kern, 2011).
A second important question is how long the beneficial effect of brief meditation periods after self-control depletion will
hold up. This is not only relevant from a basic research point of view, but to the same degree for applied contexts in which
self-control demands may stretch over considerable time spans. Future research may test this by implementing an unex-
pected third self-control task, for example, as part of an ostensibly unrelated study. Finally, an interesting possibility is that
enduring meditation practice may in the long run help to establish a particularly resource-conserving information-process-
ing mode that may effectively work like a buffer against self-control depletion, because resources are not as easily used up to
considerable degrees as in individuals who are not trained in a similar manner. Preliminary supportive evidence for the
assumption of resource-efficient information-processing in meditators comes from the previously mentioned neuroscientific
work (Slagter et al., 2007), and from behavioral studies showing a reduced tendency to engage in rumination (e.g., Borders,
Earleywine, & Jajodia, 2010; Jain et al., 2007), which has been shown to reduce self-control resources (Denson, Pedersen,
Friese, Hahm, & Roberts, 2011).
One limitation of the current study is that it did not realize a fully crossed design of self-control depletion and mindfulness
meditation.This was due to the fieldcharacter of the study and the corresponding difficultiesof recruiting a sufficient number
of participants for four experimental conditions. However, we would like to stress that the realized three experimental
Fig. 1. d2 Performance as a function of condition (no emotion suppression vs. emotion suppression vs. emotion suppression plus meditation). After emotion
suppression, participants showed impaired d2 performance as compared to the no emotion suppression condition, but this effect was absent in the emotion
suppression plus meditation condition. Error bars indicate standard errors of the mean. TN-E: Total number of items processed minus errors.
M. Friese et al./Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2012) 1016–1022
Research in the realm of the strength model of self-control suggests that it is difficult for experimental manipulations to raise
self-control performance above baseline levels for non-depleted participants (e.g., Gailliot et al., 2007; Muraven & Slessareva,
under conditions of high resources. However, it may turn out that self-control performance will profit more readily from brief
(mindfulness) manipulations under conditions of low (as compared to high) resources, after a provocation (cf. Heppner et al.,
2008), or any other factor that fosters impulsive responding. Future research using a fully crossed design and different inten-
sities of brief mindfulness manipulations will test this speculation.
A second potential limitation of the present study is that participants were attendees of an introductory meditation sem-
inar who had undergone two days of training in the seminar at the time of the data collection and who can be argued to
believe in the beneficial effects of meditation. For several reasons we do not think that the characteristics of our sample
can account for the findings. First, participants in all experimental conditions were attendees of the seminar. Because we
used a between-participants design they were neither aware of the existence nor nature of the respective other experimental
conditions. Consequently, the data collection in the context of the seminar suggested to all participants, not just those med-
itating during the study, that we were interested in effects of meditation. Thus, all participants should have been equally
motivated to show the benefits of meditation. Second, in previous research, participants in waiting list control conditions
did not show similar effects as meditation groups did (e.g., Grossman et al., 2004; Moyer et al., 2011; Powers, Vording, &
Emmelkamp, 2009). This situation structurally resembles the situation of the present study: All participants were generally
interested in meditation, but only some actually meditated during the study. Third, there was no indication of less motiva-
tion in the non-meditating experimental groups as compared to the meditation group. In addition, the d2 test of attention is
difficult to fake (Brickenkamp, 1981) and the results were similar across various indicators of d2-performance. Fourth, pre-
vious research on brief mindfulness interventions employing undergraduate samples naïve with respect to meditation found
theoretically predicted results (e.g., Arch & Craske, 2006; Heppner et al., 2008). Taken together, the literature suggests that
engaging in mindfulness meditation has unique effects that cannot be fully accounted for by previous experience with med-
itation or beliefs in its positive effects. The findings obtained in the present study are thus unlikely to be due to the specific
characteristics of the sample employed.
In sum, this study showed the deleterious effect of emotion suppression for performance in a task requiring attention
control and inhibition. A brief period of mindfulness meditation counteracted this effect and led to similar performance
as in the control condition with full resources. Mindfulness meditation may be an efficient, quick, and healthy way to coun-
teract the short-term effects of self-control depletion.
Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a grant from the Fund for the Promotion of Young Academics of the Uni-
versity of Basel to the first author.
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