There’s a meditation practice called “mindfulness” that is about actively focusing on the present moment and increasing one’s attention span.
Recently scientists analyzed whether such a practice could help improve undergrads’ test scores in the Graduate Record Exams, the GREs. The idea is that if we limit mind wandering, our ability to focus improves, and so will our cognitive ability. [The paper is published in the journal Psychological Science.]
The researchers had 24 undergrads attend a mindfulness course and another 24 go to a nutrition class. Each 45-minute class met eight times over two weeks.
The mindfulness class taught students physical and mental strategies they can use to improve their ability to focus on the task at hand, and ignore interrupting thoughts. The nutrition class covered strategies for healthy eating.
The students took a working memory test as well as the verbal reasoning section of the GRE before and after the two-week courses.
The results? Students who received the mindfulness training saw much greater improvement in working memory and their GRE scores than those who took the nutrition class. Mindfulness training was associated with a 16-percentile boost in GRE scores, on average. No word on whether the nutrition class attendees are eating better.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]