Posted 12.26.2015 | by AMRA

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Working memory capacity is a measure of one’s ability to temporarily hold information in mind while completing a cognitive task. There seems to be some conceptual overlap between the focused attention required for working memory and the moment-to-moment attention that is an integral part of mindfulness. Working memory plays crucial roles in learning, cognitive development, reasoning, comprehension, and academic performance, and any intervention that can improve working memory is of great interest to specialists in child development. In a randomized, controlled study, Quach, et al. [Journal of Adolescent Health] investigated whether an MBI can improve working memory in adolescents.

The 186 participants, primarily Hispanic and Asian junior high students (62% female; average age = 13) from predominantly low-income households, were randomly assigned to either mindfulness meditation, hatha yoga, or a wait-list control. The active intervention participants learned and practiced either mindfulness meditation or hatha yoga during eight 45-minute twice-a-week training sessions, while control participants attended their regular physical education classes.

Mindfulness meditation training was based on a truncated, modified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum that excluded hatha yoga. Hatha yoga training included an emphasis on non-judgmental attention to body posture and movement. Both interventions encouraged 15-30 minutes of daily home practice.

Before and after the inventions, participants completed a computerized test of working memory requiring them to memorize series of visually presented letters while simultaneously solving arithmetic equations. Working memory capacity was measured by the total number of letters participants recalled in their correct order within each presentational set, yielding a working memory score that could range from 0 to 75.

Participants also completed self-report measures of perceived stress and anxiety along with the Child Acceptance and Mindfulness Measure (CAMM), a self-report measure of nonjudgmental acceptance of internal experience.

Mindfulness meditation participants showed significant improvements in objectively assessed working memory scores (partial η2= .24), whereas hatha yoga (partial η2= .11) and control participants (partial η2= .01) did not show significant improvements. Mindfulness participants increased their average working memory capacity by 29%, whereas yoga participants increased theirs by only 11% and control group scores declined by 5%.

Although all groups improved over time on measures of perceived stress and anxiety, there were no differences in improvement between groups. The CAMM results were discarded due to low internal consistency.

This study shows that mindfulness meditation significantly improved an objective measure of working memory in a sample of low-income, predominantly minority adolescents. Follow-up studies have the opportunity employ an alternative measure of mindfulness, explore whether the mindfulness-facilitated increase in working memory persists over time, and examine whether it impacts school performance.

Reference:

Quach, D., Mano, K. E. J., & Alexander, K. (2015). A randomized controlled trial examining the effect of mindfulness meditation on working memory capacity in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health.

[Link to abstract]