As if the stress-relieving, healthifying effects of mindfulness weren't enough, a new study shows it could actually help students perform better on tests by boosting their memory and reading comprehension skills.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that mindfulness training could help college students do better on the verbal reasoning part of the GRE (Graduate Record Examination, an admissions test commonly used for graduate school).
"Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences," the researchers, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote in the study.
The study included 48 college students, some of whom were assigned to take a two-week mindfulness training class, and some of whom were assigned to take a two-week nutrition class. In the mindfulness class, students learned how to use mindfulness in their everyday routines, as well as to stay focused on the present without being distracted. In the nutrition class, students learned about healthy eating strategies and were asked to keep a food log.
A week before these classes started, all the study participants took a modified version of the verbal reasoning part of the GRE (it was modified not to include vocabulary) as well as a test for their working memory. They also took the GRE and the working memory tests again a week after their assigned classes had ended.
Researchers found that those who were assigned to the mindfulness training class did better on the working memory task and had higher accuracy in the GRE -- 16 percentile points higher, on average, than those assigned to the nutrition class.
"Even with a rigorous design and effective training program, it wouldn’t be unusual to find mixed results," study researcher Michael Mrazek, a psychological scientist at the university, said in a statement. "But we found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it and improved performance on both reading comprehension and working memory capacity."
Past research shows that mindfulness meditation helps people to control their "volume knob" for sensations, including the brain processing of pain and emotions. It may also work by decreasing grey matter density of the brain's amygdala, known to play a role in stress.