Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation can improve verbal learning and memory processes, study finds

New scientific research published in the journal Memory & Cognition provides evidence that a brief mindfulness meditation exercise can enhance verbal learning.

“A number of studies have shown that mindfulness can improve cognitive abilities, including certain verbal abilities. However, little research has examined how mindfulness can affect verbal learning and memory. Furthermore, no research has examined the mechanism by which mindfulness may improve learning and memory,” said study author Adam Lueke, an assistant teaching professor at Ball State University.

“We reasoned that, since mindfulness often works to quiet down thoughts which may occupy phonological loop resources, then it should be able to improve the learning of new verbal information, likely by allowing information to be better absorbed through the encoding process of memory.”

For their study, the researchers randomly assigned 142 undergraduate university students to one of two groups. One group listened to a 10-minute mindfulness meditation audio tape while the other group listened to a 10-minute audio tape that described an English countryside.

The participants completed four neuropsychological tests: the Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning Test, the Controlled Oral Word Association Test, the Trail Making Test, and the Color-Word Interference Test.

The researchers found that the mindfulness exercise increased verbal learning and memory encoding capabilities despite not improving general attention abilities or general verbal fluency. In other words, participants who listened to the 10-minute mindfulness exercise tended to be better at recalling newly learned words — but they were not any better at retrieving verbal material stored in long-term memory.

“The average reader can take away the fact that mindfulness seems likely to improve their ability to learn new verbal information and then be able to remember it later. Most of the information we rely on for school, work, and social situations is verbal in nature,” Lueke told PsyPost.

“Mindfulness can potentially make studying more efficient, can help you retain and utilize important information in your work, or even help remember something as simple as a person’s name or a story they shared with you. In essence, the ability of mindfulness to improve learning and memory can help improve people’s lives in myriad ways.”

The study — like all research — includes some caveats.

“We found that a brief mindfulness meditation of 10 minutes can have these benefits soon after the meditation for novices. We do not know how long this effect lasts. It could be that this effect wears off rather quickly, thus not allowing improved verbal learning and memory throughout the day. It is important to see how long this effect lasts within novices,” Lueke explained.

“Likewise, it is important to see if long-term meditators receive this benefit as well, perhaps throughout their day without needing to have just meditated. Additionally, we still do not know how mindfulness may affect visual learning and memory. It is possible that mindfulness is particularly good for verbal but not visual information.”

“We are currently conducting research to determine if this is the case, or if mindfulness also helps improve visual information. Also, we do not know how mindfulness may help people with memory impairments — it is possible that mindfulness may be unable to help these people due to the nature of their ailment,” Lueke said.

Despite the limitations, the findings are mostly in line with previous research. For instance, a 2013 study found that college students who were randomly assigned to attend a mindfulness class scored higher on a working memory test and the verbal reasoning section of the GRE compared to students who attended a nutrition class.

“The ability to learn new information and remember it for later use is a vital process that allows us to interact efficiently with our world and other people. Enhancing this ability can help us gain better mastery over our lives and our environment by giving us more information at our disposal to make better, more informed decisions, and to be better able to relate to other people,” Lueke said.

“The fact that mindfulness can help with this after only 10 minutes is an important finding that people can use in their everyday lives when they know they will need to rely on these abilities. Big test coming up? Got a presentation for work? Know you’ll be meeting new people and want to remember things about them in order to make a connection? Then perhaps spending a little time to meditate beforehand can help you accomplish your goals.”

The study, “Mindfulness improves verbal learning and memory through enhanced encoding“, was authored by Adam Lueke and Niloufar Lueke.