Mindfulness is credited by many as the secret to curbing anxiety and fighting depression, but it might not be the case for everyone.
The first study to explore the gender divide in meditation has revealed that, while the practice benefits women, it doesn’t help men. In fact, researchers at Brown University found that the meditation method, which teaches people to bring their attention to the present moment, actually made men feel worse than before they started. (Any reason you’re not feeling great about the present moment, guys??)
“That was the surprising part,” Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a widespread phenomenon that researchers hadn’t bothered to investigate.”
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, examined 36 female and 41 male university students who participated in 12-week courses including weekly seminars and hour-long “meditation labs.” According to results from the questionnaires, which measured the students mindfulness and self-compassion before and after the course, women’s moods improved by an average of 11.6 points over the trial. However, the average mood of men got slightly worse, with a decline of 3.7.
These results have led the researchers to believe that mindfulness may be better at addressing the ways women typically process emotions than the ways men often do.
“The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” Britton explained. “So 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.”
He added: “While facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.”
If this theory is supported by further research, Britton says it could help to tailor mindfulness strategies to better suit men and women in the future. Another idea is to also make men feel comfortable being emotional and encourage them to face difficulties in their life head-on. Just a thought.