A total of 49 students completed the experiment. All of them reported an improvement in mood, but only students in the meditation group fared a noticeable improvement in cognitive abilities. They scored consistently higher averages than those in the listening group on all tests.
"Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just four days of meditation training -- are really surprising," said Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a former doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the research was conducted. "It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation."
In one particular test called the "computer adaptive n-back task", the meditation group did as much as ten times better than the control group. This test required participants to remember whether a stimulus had been shown two steps earlier in a sequence. Every correct answer will speed up the next stimulus, increasing the difficulty of the test. The group briefly trained in meditation scored an average of ten consecutive correct answers compared to the listening group`s one.
"The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed," Zeidan noted. "In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better."
The study author, however, admitted that more brain imaging studies are required to confirm the brain power boost seen in the study.
"But this seems to be strong evidence for the idea that we may be able to modify our own minds to improve our cognitive processing -- most importantly in the ability to sustain attention and vigilance -- within a week's time."
The meditation training given to the students was administered by an experienced facilitator. Adapted from a Buddhist meditation practice, the training required participants to relax and focus on their breaths. When distracting thoughts arose, participants were told to acknowledge them and gently bring their attention back to their breathing. On top of the mindfulness meditation, students also received other training to enhance their awareness and concentration.
Does this study imply that four days of meditation are all one needs to improve cognitive skills permanently? No, said the study author. "This kind of training seems to prepare the mind for activity, but it's not necessarily permanent," Zeidan cautioned. "This doesn't mean that you meditate for four days and you're done -- you need to keep practicing."
The findings of this study coincide with similar research done in 2007 that investigated the effects of short-term meditation on attention and mood (see Source #3). In that study, 40 Chinese students were given five days of 20-minute integrative body-mind training and exhibited higher concentration, better mood, lesser stress and higher immunity.
About the author
Wee Peng Ho is a health enthusiast who writes articles on physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The topics he often covers include the healing powers of whole anti-inflammatory foods, meditation and other relaxation techniques. He looks forward to exchanging views with you on his website The Conscious Life.
Originally published June 17, 2010
Meditation Improves Cognitive Skills in Just Four Days
by Wee Peng Ho, citizen journalist