When newspapers print corrections, their corrections often only amplify your memory of the original headline and make the lie worse. So even if I were to correct a bad news story based on false science, it’d only open you up to the influence of the original headline.
Thankfully, the headline I gave you – Meditation Makes You More Creative – is totally false! Or is it? Let’s take a look at the science.
The actually study Increased False-Memory Susceptibility After Mindfulness Meditation was reported under the headline Mindfulness meditation linked to false memory recall.
A couple problems with this study:
- They didn’t study meditation. The actual study says they used a “mindfulness induction.” Induction is what’s used in hypnosis, not meditation. The idea that you can create false memories through hypnosis is well established, but entirely different then meditation.
- They didn’t study memory. The researchers gave participants 15 words related to trash, and asked them to remember as many of these words as possible. At the end, people who did mindfulness meditation were more likely to report the word “trash,” which was not on the list. This isn’t a personal memory – it’s word recall, after cramming for a test.
An alternative interpretation of this study would be that people who practice mindfulness meditation are more likely to see the patterns behind the information they’re presented.
Why didn’t the researchers chose this interpretation? As long as we’re drawing broad explanations for remembering the word “trash” after being given the hypnotic command “remember as many words as possible,” you have to ask that question.
Another interpretation – that when you cram for a test and are given less time to reflect then the control group, you’re more likely to make things up. The researchers were only studying short term cramming, so this is an entirely valid interpretation.
Perhaps the most likely interpretation – people given the command “remember as many words as possible” and then put under hypnosis are more likely to respond hypnotically – i.e. to follow the command as it was given, and remember as many words as possible, whether or not they were shown to them before.
If I were re-titling this study, I’d call it “Hypnosis Makes You More Creative.” But that’s not the narrative the researchers, medical news organization, or journalist wanted to push.
Notice, the original study used the phrase “False-Memory Susceptibility,” but the article says it’s “linked to false memory recall.” The journalist wanted to paint the image that people are creating entire false scenarios and stories (which again, hypnosis can be used to cause), rather then making up answers on a test they crammed for. It’s a game of telephone, where the target is meditation.
Now, why would the medical industry want to slander something that’s free, can’t be owned or bought, and has been shown to have numerous health and psychological benefits?
If you drew any conclusion from that last sentence beyond that I was asking a question, congrats – reading my blog leads to “false memory recall.”
Once you can spot this kind of bad science and worse journalism, you’ll see it EVERYWHERE. No one will ever be able to tell you “studies show” or “I read the other day” again.
Where have I heard another story about a headline getting literally everything wrong? Oh yeah, I made a documentary about that, and explored how the news really works through the personal experience of a family member. You can watch that here.
P.S. Donate to Angel City Zen Center! Help us spread the practice of meditation, which scientific studies have shown will make you more creative and better able to see patterns in the world. Donate here.
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