By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Every lawyer who has ever met with a witness to prepare that person for testimony has probably stressed the ability to be calm and focused while testifying. And after meeting with a great many future witnesses over the years, it's possible to arrive at the feeling that some witnesses have that ability and some just don't. But effective focus may be less a matter of natural ability and inclination and more a matter of a skill that can be learned. The skill is something called "mindfulness," or the state of being in the moment, nonjudgmental, paying attention to present sensations thoughts and feelings. To be sure, some of our habits built up over a lifetime are likely to help or hurt in that regard. And some features of modern life, like continuous electronic connections, might be pushing us away from it. But like other facets of good testimony, mindfulness can be a matter of behavior, and behaviors can be learned.
A recent study (Lin et al., 2016) tested that principle and found that even a brief intervention had a significant effect on emotional control. As summarized in Psyblog, the study found that "Even those who are not mindful can benefit from meditation to help control their emotions." The research team asked participants to view a series of upsetting images after meditating for the first time. A control group listened to a comparably paced and delivered TED talk instead, while those in the experimental group listened to a 20-minute audio of Dr. Steven Hickman of UC San Diego walking them through a session on meditation and mindfulness. After finishing the session and then viewing the images, those in the meditation group were more able to successfully rein in their emotional response, and this was confirmed not only through subjective assessment, but also through measurement of electrical activity in the brain. As lead author Yanli Lin explained, "Our findings not only demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but that people can acquire these benefits regardless of their 'natural' ability to be mindful. It just takes some practice."