Mindfulness Improves Reading Ability, Working Memory, and Task-Focus

Posted on March 27, 2013

"This is the most complete and rigorous demonstration that mindfulness can reduce mind-wandering, one of the clearest demonstrations that mindfulness can improve working memory and reading" (flickr)

If you think your inability to concentrate is a hopeless condition, think again –– and breathe, and focus. According to a study by researchers at the UC Santa Barbara, as little as two weeks of mindfulness training can significantly improve one's reading comprehension, working memory capacity, and ability to focus.

Their findings were recently published online in the empirical psychology journal Psychological Science.

"What surprised me the most was actually the clarity of the results," said Michael Mrazek, graduate student researcher in psychology and the lead and corresponding author of the paper, "Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering." "Even with a rigorous design and effective training program, it wouldn't be unusual to find mixed results. But we found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it."

Many psychologists define mindfulness as a state of non-distraction characterized by full engagement with our current task or situation. For much of our waking hours, however, we are anything but mindful. We tend to replay past events –– like the fight we just had or the person who just cut us off on the freeway –– or we think ahead to future circumstances, such as our plans for the weekend.

Mind-wandering may not be a serious issue in many circumstances, but in tasks requiring attention, the ability to stay focused is crucial.

To investigate whether mindfulness training can reduce mind-wandering and thereby improve performance, the scientists randomly assigned 48 undergraduate students to either a class that taught the practice of mindfulness or a class that covered fundamental topics in nutrition. Both classes were taught by professionals with extensive teaching experience in their fields. Within a week before the classes, the students were given two tests: a modified verbal reasoning test from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and a working memory capacity (WMC) test. Mind-wandering during both tests was also measured.

The mindfulness classes provided a conceptual introduction along with practical instruction on how to practice mindfulness in both targeted exercises and daily life. Meanwhile, the nutrition class taught nutrition science and strategies for healthy eating, and required students to log their daily food intake.

Within a week after the classes ended, the students were tested again. Their scores indicated that the mindfulness group significantly improved on both the verbal GRE test and the working memory capacity test. They also mind-wandered less during testing. None of these changes were true of the nutrition group.

"This is the most complete and rigorous demonstration that mindfulness can reduce mind-wandering, one of the clearest demonstrations that mindfulness can improve working memory and reading, and the first study to tie all this together to show that mind-wandering mediates the improvements in performance," said Mrazek. He added that the research establishes with greater certainty that some cognitive abilities often seen as immutable, such as working memory capacity, can be improved through mindfulness training.


Category(s):Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Mindfulness Meditation

Source material from University of Santa Barbara


Mental Health News

  • New Therapy for Schizophrenia

    newsthumbA new form of therapy has been found to be quite promising in its use as a treatment plan for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is one of the more ...

  • Parental Anxiety and Children's Learning

    newsthumbA new study has found that parents’ attitudes towards mathematics can predict the learning outcomes of their children.

  • MDMA Enhances Cooperation

    newsthumbA new study from King’s College London suggests that MDMA – found in ecstasy – may explain why users cooperate more after taking the drug. ...