Source: Youngs, M. A., Lee, S. E., Mireku, M. O., Sharma, D., & Kramer, R. S. S. (2021). Mindfulness Meditation Improves Visual Short-Term Memory. Psychological Reports, 124(4), 1673–1686.
Do you ever have a difficult time transcribing a phone number down from voice mail or copying information from one document to another? This issue is with “short term memory” which is when we hold a small amount of information in our memory for under thirty seconds.
Short term memory deficits can result in a range of negative implications including differences in learning (Frensch & Miner, 1994), mathematical performance (Swanson & Kim, 2007), and reading comprehension (Haarmann et al., 2003). Previous research has demonstrated improvements in working memory with mindful meditation, but there has been little evidence that short term memory also stood to benefit from meditation practices. This study aimed to look at whether visual short term memory could be enhanced with mindful meditation.
The study looked at the effect of a single, 8-minute mindfulness meditation, in the form of a guided audio meditation, on a short-term memory task of remembering faces. The study had two other groups as controls – one group listened to an audio book and one spent the time however they wished. When comparing the groups, the mindful meditators showed significant improvements in their performance. The other two groups did not show an improvement.
The authors suggested that one explanation for mindful meditation to improve short term memory capacity is simply that it clears the mind of “task irrelevant” information which tends to occupy part of our short term memory at any given time. Another suggestion is that mindful meditation tends to reduce anxiety (Hoge et al, 2014) – improving our emotional state likely enhances the way our brain functions and allows for better memory.
However, the actual explanation as to why short term memory was found to improve is likely a combination of factors yet to be fully understood… but certainly another promising reason to invest in your practice.
Frensch, P. A., & Miner, C. S. (1994). Effects of presentation rate and individual differences in short-term memory capacity on an indirect measure of serial learning. Memory & Cognition, 22(1), 95–110.
Haarmann, H. J., Davelaar, E. J., & Usher, M. (2003). Individual differences in semantic short-term memory capacity and reading comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 48(2), 320–345.
Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., Worthington, J. J., Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2014). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: Effects of anxiety and stress reactivity. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.
Swanson, L., & Kim, K. (2007). Working memory, short-term memory, and naming speed as predictors of children’s mathematical performance. Intelligence, 35(2), 151–168.