Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Erika Nyhus and Isabella Vakkur, have released the initial findings for their research into whether mindfulness improves memory. 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.
The project recruited 40 students with no prior meditation experience. 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. Students in both groups took two memory tests, one at the beginning of the study and one at the end. While they performed the exam, they were connected to an electroencephalogram (EEG) to capture the electrical brain activity between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the two brain regions associated with source memory.
Based on preliminary behavioral results from the source-memory test alone, the meditation group showed improvement in source memory from pre-test to post-test, but the control group did not.
Their research is continuing, with an interest in seeing the neurological changes that may have occurred to explain why there was an improvement in how the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex send signals back and forth. Vakkur says fo this: “We’re interested in pinpointing the reason why we’re seeing these differences. It is one thing to see the scores improve, that they’re more accurate in labeling the words in the post-test, but we’re also interested in seeing why that’s happening.”
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