A new study provides evidence that an single, 8-minute mindfulness meditation exercises can improve visual short-term memory. The findings appear in the journal Psychological Reports.
“Mindfulness meditation has become a hot topic in recent years, with numerous studies beginning to explore and demonstrate its various benefits for those who practice it,” said Robin Kramer, a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln and corresponding author of the study.
“I had previously been interested in mindfulness meditation and how it affects time perception — a brief meditation exercise led to a relative overestimation of duration. Since my research focus is face perception, my co-authors and I decided to investigate whether mindfulness meditation might influence short-term memory for faces, given previous work suggesting its effects on short-term and working memory more generally.”
In the study, 90 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either listen to the beginning of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, listen to a guided “mindfulness of body and breath” exercise, or sit quietly and fill their time however they wished. Before and after this 8-minute session, the participants completed a facial recognition task to assess their visual short-term memory.
The researchers found that those who listened to the mindfulness meditation exercise tended to improve on the visual memory test, while those who listened to an audiobook or filled their time however they wished did not.
The inability to avoid visual distractions has been linked to poor short-term memory, and mindfulness meditation exercises may help people ignore task-irrelevant information or reduce their anxiety. But Kramer and his colleagues did not directly test this in their study.
“Although our results demonstrated that mindfulness meditation led to an increase in visual short-term memory for faces, we do not know how this came about. As such, the mechanism behind this improvement remains to be identified,” the researcher explained. “In addition, although we focus on face images in our memory task, it may be the case that this memory improvement is not limited to this class of stimuli only.”
“The benefit of using brief audio recordings to induce improvements may mean that our findings could be easily applied in a practical sense. However, there are many different types of mindfulness meditation, and with the mechanisms underlying this improvement still unknown, future research might explore further these sizable gaps in our understanding of how and why mindfulness affects memory,” Kramer said.
The study, “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Visual Short-Term Memory“, was authored by Molly A. Youngs, Samuel E. Lee, Michael O. Mireku, Dinkar Sharma, and Robin S. S. Kramer.