A review of recent research has revealed that meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, may help shape a person’s personality traits and promote a healthier self-concept. Researchers Cristiano Crescentini and Viviana Capurso released their findings January 2015 in Frontiers in Psychology. Their study summarizes the evidence on the potential benefits of the increasingly popular practice of meditation.
The review looked at a particular form of meditation called mindfulness meditation (MM). According to the authors, MM is mental training that involves “focused attention component with a non-judgmental attitude of openness and receptivity when trying to intentionally pay attention, and non-reactively monitor, the content of present-moment experience.” By practicing this form of meditation, one is practicing acceptance of the present moment (without judgment) as well as oneself. Over time, self-awareness, acceptance, and compassion are promoted through this practice.
The researchers noted that the benefits like emotional regulation, greater focus, and self-awareness have been well shown for mindfulness meditation. However, much less is know about possible benefits of MM on personality traits and self-concept. Therefore, Crescentini and Cupurso reviewed recent research studies of two kinds.
First, they reviewed studies that have examined the benefits of MM on personality using what they termed “explicit personality measures,” tests that specifically designed to measure personality traits such as the Big-Five traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, openness-to-experience, and neuroticism). This part of the review showed that several studies have found benefits like lower anxiety and self-criticism, and higher self-esteem and positive self-representations.
Second, they reviewed studies that measured the benefits of MM on personality using “implicit personality measures,” tests that were designed to measure personality traits using automatic association tests. This is different about tests that simply ask a person about their personality because tests like these are made to measure a person’s subconscious beliefs about themselves and automatic behaviors that reveal personality traits. Crescentini and Cupurso felt that this was important to include because: (1) it could help strengthen the findings of explicit personality measures and, (2) it could help show if conscious and subconscious self-concepts can become better aligned with one another through MM. This part of the review showed that MM has produced changes in people’s automatic responses. For example, implicit measures of self-esteem became healthier (and became more congruent with explicit measures of self-esteem) in one study using an 8-week MM program.
There is much less research evidence regarding MM benefits using implicit measures than explicit ones. And as a whole, as the authors note, “the research on MM and personality is still in its infancy” which means that far more studies are needed before it becomes clear that MM has value for positively shaping personality. Also, this study was not a newly conducted study but rather a review of previous completed studies. Therefore, while it provides useful information it does not offer new data on the value of practicing MM. In conclusion, MM appears to be a practice that can help improve mental well-being and personality tendencies but far more research is needed before we know this for certain.