Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance

Andrew C. Hafenbrack, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

A state of mindfulness is characterized by focused, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. The current research experimentally investigated how state mindfulness influences task motivation and performance, using multiple meditation inductions, comparison conditions, tasks, and participant samples. Mindfulness inductions, relative to comparison conditions, reduced motivation to tackle mundane tasks (Experiments 1–4) and pleasant tasks (Experiment 2). Decreased future focus and decreased arousal serially mediated the demotivating effect of mindfulness (Experiments 3 and 4). In contrast to changes in motivation, inducing a state of mindfulness did not affect task performance, as seen in all experiments but one (Experiments 2–5). Meta-analyses of performance experiments, including unreported findings (i.e., the file drawer), supported these conclusions. Experiment 5’s serial mediation showed that mindfulness enabled people to detach from stressors, which improved task focus. When combined with mindfulness's demotivating effects, these results help explain why mindfulness does not alter performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume147
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the support from FCT – Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology for the project “UID/GES/00407/2013”, the Humboldt Foundation for their support of Kathleen Vohs through an Anneliese Maier Award, a Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics faculty research grant, the INSEAD Alumni Fund, the Católica-Lisbon LERNE Lab, and the INSEAD-Sorbonne Université Behavioural Lab. This article grew out of a chapter of Andrew C. Hafenbrack’s Ph.D. dissertation at INSEAD. We are grateful for study design suggestions and feedback on prior drafts from Stefan Thau, Sigal Barsade, Joyce Bono, Lindsey Cameron, Horacio Falcão, Charlotte Fritz, Adam Grant, Zoe Kinias, Celia Moore, Rachel Hee Seo Park, Francesco Sguera, Dan Turban, and Maurizio Zollo, and for comments during presentations at the 2016 AOM conference, Católica-Lisbon SBE, the 2014 Cranfield School of Management Mindfulness at Work conference, the Darden School of Business, EMLyon, ESSEC, the 2017 EASP conference, the 2017 IACCP conference, IE Business School, INSEAD Singapore, London Business School, Nova SBE, Singapore Management University, Sungkyunkwan GSB, Università Bocconi, and the 2017 University of Colorado Law School Positive Lawyering, Mindfulness, and Serious Games Conference. For research assistance, we thank Joshua Bartelme, Cláudia Castiço, Francisca De Jesus Maria, Laure Leglise, Isabel Moreira, Huong Ngo, Charles Park, Luis Filipe Roxo, and Vanessa Sá.

Keywords

  • Arousal
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Motivation
  • Performance
  • Psychological detachment

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