Factors Affecting Autobiographical Recall: Mindfulness Meditation and Emotional Memories
Greenberg, Daniel L
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When people learn to be mindful, they learn to be present in the moment, observant of feelings, and nonreactive to emotional stimuli. Because of this, someone who is more mindful may remember emotional memories differently from someone who is less mindful. Consequently, we designed a study to examine the effects of mindfulness on autobiographical recall. We recruited undergraduate students and assessed their level of mindfulness. We induced a mindful state or a relaxed state using audio-files. Participants recalled “angry” or “happy” memories and then rated their emotional state. Blood pressure was taken at several points throughout the study. We hypothesized that participants who were more mindful (whether through trait mindfulness or induced mindfulness) would react less to their emotional memories both psychologically and physiologically since mindfulness promotes nonreactivity to emotional stimuli. We also hypothesized that the sense of reliving that characterizes autobiographical memory would be inhibited in more mindful participants since mindfulness promotes awareness in the present. Finally, we hypothesized that more mindful participants would have either equal amounts of affective words, cognitive mechanistic words, and perceptual features in their memory recollections as compared to less mindful participants (mindfulness affects one’s reaction to emotional events and therefore amount of detail recalled) or more of these properties in the positive memories since mindfulness improves mood. Only one of our analyses proved to be significant: When participants were recalling negative memories, they used more cognitive-process words when they were in the mindful condition. Other analyses were not significant. Future research should focus on more powerful ways of inducing a mindful state; it should also examine different ways of eliciting memories, including handwritten memories and in-person interviews.