15 March 2013

Mindfulness can improve self-knowledge

Mindfulness — paying attention to one’s current experience in a non-judgemental way — might help us to learn more about our own personalities, according to research.

Mindfulness — paying attention to one’s current experience in a non-judgemental way — might help us to learn more about our own personalities, according to a new article published in the March 2013 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Recent research has highlighted the fact that we have many blind spots when it comes to understanding our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Despite our intuition that we know ourselves the best, other people have a more accurate view of some traits (e.g., intellect) than we do. In some cases, blind spots in self-knowledge can have negative consequences, such as poor decision-making, poor academic achievement, emotional and interpersonal problems, and lower life satisfaction.

Improve self-knowledge

In this new article, psychological scientist Erika Carlson of Washington University in St. Louis explores one potential strategy for improving self-knowledge: mindfulness.

Mindfulness — a technique often recognised for its positive effects on mental health — involves paying attention to your current experience (e.g., thoughts, feelings) and observing it in a non-judgemental manner.

According to Carlson, these two components of mindfulness, attention and non-judgemental observation, can overcome the major barriers to knowing ourselves. She argues that the motivation to see ourselves in a desirable way is one of the main obstacles to self-knowledge. For instance, people may overestimate their virtuous qualities to ward off negative feelings or boost self-esteem. However, non-judgemental observation of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, might reduce emotional reactivity — such as feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem — that typically interferes with people seeing the truth about themselves.

Lack of information is another barrier to self-knowledge — in some situations, people might not have the information they would need to accurately assess themselves. For instance, we have a hard time observing much of our nonverbal behaviour, so we may not know that we’re grimacing or fidgeting during a serious conversation. Mindfulness could also help in this domain, as research has shown that mindfulness training is associated with greater bodily awareness.

Drawing from cognitive, clinical, and social psychology, Carlson outlines a theoretical link between mindfulness and self-knowledge that suggests focusing our attention on our current experiences in a non-judgemental way could be an effective tool for getting to know ourselves better.

This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-1025330 awarded to Simine Vazire.




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