Don’t sign up for an intensive meditation workshop just yet.
But recent studies conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara showed significant improvement in students’ reading comprehension test scores after they completed a two-week intensive “mindfulness training program.”
According to a recent article in the New York Times, researchers enrolled 48 undergraduate students in a study that they claimed was to help them “improve cognitive performance.” They then evaluated each student for working memory capacity, mind-wandering and performance on the reading comprehension section of the GRE.
Half of the students were assigned to participate in a nutrition program, while the other group were trained in in mindfulness-based stress reduction, where students met four days a week for two weeks and learned various breathing and meditation techniques.
Results from this study were pretty impressive — students that participated in the mindfulness training not only demonstrated less “mind-wandering” but they also scored better on tests that involved reading comprehension and working memory capacity.
As an example, student’s average GRE verbal score improved from an average of 460 to 520 just after two weeks of training. The test scores of group of students who participated in the nutrition program remained unchanged.
Now, don’t get too excited. Investing in a 10-pack yoga class or joining an ashram isn’t a guaranteed boost in your test scores.
Like psychology Professor Richard J. Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains, “If you have people who are out of shape and then do two weeks of physical exercise, you’ll see some benefit. But if they stop exercising, the benefits won’t persist.”
There is also some skepticism regarding these results, eing that they are based off a small sample group and have yet to be replicated in similar experiments.
However, some other experts believe there is legitimate value in the results of this study.
Nelson Cowan, a professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of working memory capacity and attention, said, “A type of training that can help one avoid susceptibility to worries, or other sources of mind-wandering, very well could improve performance.”
Ultimately it’s too soon to tell how much of an impact meditation or other forms of mindfulness training can have on academic performance. But in the meantime it can’t hurt to work on focusing and calming your mind before your next big test.