Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance

An important experiment demonstrated that mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) performance while reducing mind wandering.1 Forty-eight undergraduates were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness class or a nutrition task. The mindfulness class emphasized physical posture and mental strategies of focused-attention meditation. It required participants to integrate mindfulness into their daily activities and to complete 10 minutes of daily meditation outside of class. Classes met four times a week for 45 minutes for two weeks. During class, participants sat on cushions in a circle. Each class included 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness exercises requiring focused attention to some aspect of sensory experience (sensations of breathing, tastes of a piece of fruit, or sounds of an audio recording. Participants shared their experiences with the class and received personalized feedback from the instructor. Class content was designed to provide a clear set of strategies for and a conceptual understanding of how to practice mindfulness, Classes focused on sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking, minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present, using the breath as an anchor for attention during meditation, repeatedly counting up to 21 consecutive exhalations, and allowing the mind to rest naturally rather than trying to suppress the occurrence of thoughts.

The nutrition class served as a control group so that an equal amount of time would be spent training, but on an unrelated topic. Participants in the nutrition class were required to log their daily food intake.

The working memory capacity (WMC) task was the operation scan test mentioned in the immediately preceding post. A 20 minute verbal reasoning section was excerpted from the GRE that assessed reading comprehension. Mind wandering was measured during the performance of these tasks using the same scale for task unrelated thoughts (TUT) that was described in the immediately preceding post. These tests were administered both before the classes started, and after the classes were completed.

Mindfulness training improved both the GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the GRE and the measure of working memory. Improvements in performance following mindfulness training were mediated by reduced mind-wandering among participants who were prone to distraction at pretesting.

The authors concluded that their results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences. I certainly agree, and I am impressed that these effects were achieved with so little training.

The descriptions of the mindfulness training are limited by the description provided in the research paper. More information on mindfulness and mindfulness techniques can be found by entering “mindfulness” or “meditation” in the healthymemory blog search box.

1Mrazek, M.D., Franklin M.S., Phillips, D.T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J.W. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and Graduate Record Examination performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological Science, 24, 776.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One Response to “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance”

  1. Rosamaria Raper Says:

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