Mindfulness and error recognition

Mindfulness practices improve our ability to recognize error.

A recent study shows this by monitoring brain activity with an EEG.

The EEG can measure brain activity at the millisecond level, so we got precise measures of neural activity right after mistakes compared to correct responses. A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls,” said Jeff Lin, co-author of the study linked just below. [emphasis mine](link to quote: How meditation can help you make fewer mistakes)

The study is here: On Variation in Mindfulness Training: A Multimodal Study of Brief Open Monitoring Meditation on Error Monitoring.

Few Buddhists will be surprised at the general findings of this study.

Error recognition is what first got me to read about this study.

The findings became even more interesting to me when I saw the statement about the one-half-second error positivity response in the quote above.

Error recognition or the recognition that one might be making an error is key to successful FIML practice.

The second key is to act on our recognition quickly, within a few seconds if possible.

I have always figured it takes about a half second more or less to feel a slight disturbance that tells us we might be forming a wrong impression about what someone is saying or doing. That we might be making an error.

It is this disturbance that tells us it is time to do a FIML query. Virtually every time I do a proper FIML query I find I am either flat out wrong or wrong enough to want to revise my original impression.

In the past, have called the slight disturbance mentioned above a “jangle,” a term I don’t really like because it makes the response sound stronger than what it is. From now on, I may refer to it as the “error positivity response,” though maybe that’s not precisely the same and it is jargony.

In Buddhism, the response is probably the second of the five skandhassensation.

Buddhist practice will definitely make you more aware of the second skadha or “error positivity response.”

By being aware of this response in conversation with a trusted partner, FIML practice helps us take our mindfulness to a new level by providing  us with the opportunity to ask our partner about their intentions. That is, the check our mental work for error.

If this is done quickly enough to preserve clear memories of 1) your “error positivity response” and 2) your partner’s memory of what was in their working memory at that moment THEN you both have one of the few psychological facts you can both be sure of.

Facts of this sort are not just psychologically of great significance, they are also of philosophical significance because they really are one of the very few fact-types you can truly know about your own idiosyncratic existence; your own very weird being.

I believe this is why the Buddha emphasized the importance of the moment.

FIML practices explodes the moment or expands it to include more reliable information (your partner’s input). And this allows both of you to do a really good analysis of what just happened, what that moment entailed.

And doing that many times, will help both of you see how you really are. It will help you break fee from erroneous psychological frames or theoretical misinterpretations of any type.

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