Published July 24, 2018 by Rebecca Goldfine

Can Mindfulness Meditation Improve Memory?

Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Erika Nyhus and Isabella Vakkur ’20 are investigating whether memory improvement can be added to meditation's long list of benefits.
Izzy Vakur
Isabella Vakkur is assisting in a neuroscience study on meditation and memory this summer

If you read some of the popular articles on meditation these days, you might get the idea that mindfulness is a cure for everything, from alleviating stress and anxiety to improving academic and athletic performance.

Now Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Erika Nyhus and her student assistants are looking into whether memory improvement can be added to meditation’s long list of benefits. Meditation is the practice of becoming aware of one’s endless stream of thoughts and feelings, and then letting them pass without attaching weight to them. The activity trains people to disengage with distractions, so Nyhus wondered if it could also strengthen focus and help with information retention.

A video demonstration of  one of the memory tests Erika Nyhus’s lab uses

Nyhus’s research project is focusing specifically on source memory, which is how we contextualize our memories. For instance, source memory places any new information we learn in the context in which we first encountered it — say in a classroom or while watching a documentary. “It’s a harder kind of memory” than simply recognizing a familiar person, place, or story, Nyhus said, and people with memory deficits struggle in particular with it.

This summer, Nyhus is working with Isabella Vakkur ’20 to analyze the results of a study conducted in the 2015-2016 academic year with another student researcher. For the experiment, forty students with no meditation experience were recruited and the split into two groups of twenty. The control group did not meditate. The other group participated in a four-week course led by a meditation expert, and were asked to meditate on their own for twenty minutes a day.