Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“For people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for helping that process. 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. 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.” – Willoughby Britton
Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline personality disorder, impulsivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, suicidality and even with psychosis. It also improves the psychological well-being of healthy people. Interestingly, there appears to be differences between men and women in the occurrence of various mental illnesses. Women have a much higher incidence of emotional issues than men such as anxiety and depression. On the other hand, men are more likely to have conduct disorders and substance abuse.
One of the ways that mindfulness appears to work to improve mental health is by improving emotion regulation. This increases the individual’s ability to fully experience emotions but react to and cope with them adaptively, in other words, not to be carried away by them. Since women are more likely to have emotional issues than men, and mindfulness is particularly effective in improving emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness would have greater psychological benefits for women than for men.
In today’s Research News article “Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/, Rojiana and colleagues recruited male and female university students and trained them for 12 weeks, 3 times per week for 1 hour, in focused and open monitoring meditation. They completed measurements before and after training of mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and self-compassion. They then compared the effectiveness of the meditation training for men and women.
They found that after training both men and women improved in mindfulness and self -compassion, but women had greater improvements than men in mindfulness and the mindfulness facets of observing, describing, non-judging, and non-reacting. Women also showed greater decreases in negative emotions. For women, it was found that the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in negative emotions. Hence, they found that women tended to benefit more from the meditation training that the men.
These are interesting results that suggest that women respond to meditation training with greater improvements in emotions and mindfulness than men. This may well have occurred due to the facts that mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation and women have greater problems with emotion regulation and thereby benefit more. The greater improvements in mindfulness in women are interesting and may be due to the fact that the women were lower in mindfulness, particularly non-reactivity, to begin with. The meditation simply increased their levels of mindfulness to those of the men. This suggests that women have a greater tendency to react emotionally and that mindfulness training by decreasing this reactivity has greater benefits for women.
The results might have been different had the study measured behavioral conduct and externalizing behaviors rather than emotions. In a sense, the study played right to the issues than most trouble women and didn’t measure those that are more characteristic of males. Had they measured these factors perhaps they would have seen greater improvement in men rather than women. Regardless, women appear to benefit more emotionally from mindfulness training than men.
“When thrown by their feelings, men tend to “externalize” their emotions by doing things like working out, playing video games or otherwise interacting with their outer worlds. Women tend to “internalize” by analyzing and ruminating over their emotional states, psychologists say. While many men go outward — and one might argue, distract themselves from their internal world — women go inward.” – Drake Baer
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Rojiani, R., Santoyo, J. F., Rahrig, H., Roth, H. D., & Britton, W. B. (2017). Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 551. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00551
Objectives: While recent literature has shown that mindfulness training has positive effects on treating anxiety and depression, there has been virtually no research investigating whether effects differ across genders—despite the fact that men and women differ in clinically significant ways. The current study investigated whether college-based meditation training had different effects on negative affect for men and women.
Methods: Seventy-seven university students (36 women, age = 20.7 ± 3.0 years) participated in 12-week courses with meditation training components. They completed self-report questionnaires of affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion before and after the course.
Results: Compared to men, women showed greater decreases in negative affect and greater increases on scales measuring mindfulness and self-compassion. Women’s improvements in negative affect were correlated to improvements in measures of both mindfulness skills and self-compassion. In contrast, men showed non-significant increases in negative affect, and changes in affect were only correlated with ability to describe emotions, not any measures of experiential or self-acceptance.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that women may have more favorable responses than men to school-based mindfulness training, and that the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions may be maximized by gender-specific modifications.