A psychological study has shown that a single short session of mindfulness meditation exercise can help improve short term memory.
With mindfulness a major subject of late as the current circumstances mean that an increasing number of us are seeking some level of stability and inner peace, mindfulness has become a potential solution to not only help with relaxation but with performance in work and education.
The increased use of online therapists during lockdown has also led to increased interest in mindfulness as a relaxation and therapeutic tool.
The survey of 90 undergraduate students showed that those who underwent an eight-minute guided mediation exercise tended to get better results on a visual short-term memory test than those who did not.
This suggests a possible connection between mindfulness and improved memory, according to the study published in Psychological Reports.
The test involved 90 undergraduate students, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group listened to the beginning of an audiobook of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, one was allowed to sit quietly and fill the eight minutes however they chose, and the final group listened to a guided mindfulness exercise.
After this, all 90 students were asked to complete a facial recognition task, intended to check if there were any changes to their visual short-term memory.
The results were surprising in their significance. The only group to improve significantly was the mindfulness group, which suggests a connection between visual short term memory and mindfulness, although the researchers concede they had not directly tested this.
There is still a lot that is not known about why improvement was so noticeable. Because of the limitations of the test to confirm some level of connection, it remains to be seen exactly what aspect of mindfulness meditation helped improve memory, although there are theories.
Why Does It Work?
There is tangible proof that mindfulness improves memory, but to find a potential theory for why it does, we need to look into the purpose of mindfulness to begin with.
Mindfulness is a state of mind that focuses on the moment, rather than anything that has happened before or could happen into the future. Typically this is achieved through guided mediation, where we draw attention to our body, our breathing and our natural state of being.
This is an innately relaxing exercise that removes external distractions. This is one part of why mindfulness helped with short-term memory; after focussing on the moment there were fewer distractions which can affect our memory.
It has uses in reducing anxiety and concerns, which allows the mind to focus on the task ahead. The study cites a report that said that the attention control centre of our brains is negatively affected by anxiety, as it causes us to focus away from task-important information.
More focussed studies may be required to see just how much of an effect mindfulness has, and the exact reasons it is so effective, but this is an important first step to understanding how our minds work.