As little as 4 days of mindfulness meditation training may improve the ability of young adults to pay attention, according to a small study published in Consciousness and Cognition (2010; 19, 597–605). A prior study found that 3 days of mindful meditation training effectively reduced pain ratings and sensitivity. The same researchers decided to examine whether brief meditation training could improve cognitive tasks related to working memory, sustained attention, visual coding and verbal fluency.
Investigators from Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, recruited 63 students who were interested in learning meditation but had no prior training. Researchers randomly assigned 24 people to a meditation cohort and 25 to a control group. An experienced meditation teacher led the former group through four separate 20-minute training sessions. Control group subjects listened to an audio book, JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit, in four separate sessions, supervised by a research assistant. All participants took mindfulness and mood assessments at baseline and throughout the intervention. In addition, all subjects completed standardized cognitive-task tests, such as word association and short-term memory challenges.
Data analysis showed that subjects who participated in 4 days of mindful meditation training effectively increased mindfulness scores and performance on certain cognitive tasks, compared with active control group members. Meditation-trained subjects performed better on tests of verbal fluency, complex visual tracking and working memory. Mood improved in all subjects. At baseline, mood measures had not differed between the groups. Researchers suggested that mood improved in control group members because listening to an audio book was relaxing. Meditation, however, was more effective at reducing fatigue in addition to boosting mood.
Study authors concluded that brief meditation training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory and executive functioning—meaning, essentially, that the training enhanced attention. Meditation training also reduced fatigue and anxiety and increased mindfulness. The results could not be generalized to older adults.
Fadel Zeidan, lead study author and research fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, concluded, “These findings suggest that the benefits of meditation can be realized after a very brief training format. In fact, people are likely to experience some benefits maybe after one meditation session.”