Mindfulness is credited by many for being an excellent practice for better mental health (and sometimes, better physical health). Turns out, however, that might not be the case for everyone.
The first study to explore how meditation affects people of different genders has revealed that even though the practice seems to benefit women, it doesn't seem to help men. In fact, in the April 2017 study, Brown University researchers found that mindfulness, which encourages people to bring their attention to the present moment, actually made men feel worse than they felt before they started.
"That was the surprising part," Willoughby Britton, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, said in a statement. "I wouldn't be surprised if this is a widespread phenomenon that researchers hadn't bothered to investigate."
Stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract.
In the study, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers followed 36 female and 41 male university students, all of whom participated in 12-week mindfulness courses that included weekly seminars and hour-long "meditation labs." The participating students each filled out questionnaires, which measured their levels of mindfulness and self-compassion before and after the course. According to these questionnaires, female participants' moods improved by an average of 11.6 points over the trial. However, the average mood of male participants became slightly worse, with a decline of 3.7.
These results have led the researchers to believe that mindfulness might be better at addressing the way women typically process emotions than the way men often do.
"The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract," Dr. Britton explained in the statement. "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."
She 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, Dr. Britton said it could help meditation pros tailor their mindfulness strategies to better suit men and women in the future.