Mindfulness meditation may improve decision making

Mindfulness meditation may improve decision making

Mindfulness meditation may help people make smarter choices by cultivating awareness of the present moment and clearing the mind of other thoughts, a new study suggests.

One 15-minute focused-breathing meditation may improve decision making, researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

People have trouble cutting their losses: They hold on to losing stocks too long, they stay in bad relationships, and they continue to eat large restaurant meals even when they're full, researchers said.

This behaviour, often described as "throwing good money after bad," is driven by what behavioural scientists call the "sunk-cost bias."

"Most people have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes," said researcher Andrew Hafenbrack, lead author on the new research and doctoral candidate at INSEAD.

"They don't want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to 'break even'," said Hafenbrack.

Across a series of studies, Hafenbrack and co-authors found that mindfulness meditation, which cultivates awareness of the present moment and clears the mind of other thoughts, may help to counteract this deep-rooted bias.

"We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, while ignoring some of the other concerns that typically exacerbate the 'sunk cost bias'," said Hafenbrack.

In collaboration with Zoe Kinias and Sigal Barsade, Hafenbrack conducted four studies to test the idea that mindfulness meditation could improve decision-making by increasing resistance to the sunk-cost bias.

In one online study, American participants reported about how much they typically focus on the present moment, and also read 10 sunk-cost scenarios - such as whether to attend a music festival that had been paid for when illness and bad weather made enjoyment unlikely - and then reported how much they would let go of sunk costs in each of them.

The results concluded that the more people typically focused on the present moment, the more they reported that they would ignore sunk costs.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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