Improved health and well-being are at the forefront of mindfulness meditation benefits. With this practice continuously gaining traction, researchers wanted to perform a clinical trial for evidence of its efficacy in improving cognitive function (attention, memory, processing speed, and executive functioning). Mindfulness training appears attractive for those looking to strengthen skills and improve health, but what does the research say?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness meditation is introspective thinking with clearly defined goals of paying attention to thoughts, emotions, and one’s surroundings without judgment.1 Often, a goal is to improve concentration as it is common to catch the mind wandering and then lose track of the task at hand. In addition, practicing mindfulness encourages participants to reduce stressful habits, negative feelings, and unhealthy responses by becoming more aware, focused, and empathetic.
Mindfulness meditation can be encouraged in class settings or comfortably in the privacy of your home. Some studies have shown that mindfulness-based practices and stress reduction techniques support cognitive function in adults.2 If true, engaging in this activity could be used therapeutically or for recovery from certain brain-based conditions.
Does mindfulness meditation work?
With many still trying to recover from the pandemic and regain some normalcy in their lives, the surge in the popularity of mindfulness meditation continues. However, a recent study2 suggests mindfulness meditation doesn’t work as well as researchers thought, at least for certain parameters and populations.
A study published in JAMA set out to test the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.2 Participants were divided into groups with one group undergoing a mindfulness meditation intervention to improve cognitive functioning.2 Cognitive function was tested and evaluated based on skills including self-regulation and adaptive thinking (the ability to quickly think without getting stressed). The evaluation included a working and episodic memory test, a card sorting test, and a consonant-vowel odd-even switching test.2
The intervention group was compared to a control group that did not undergo mindfulness training.2 The control group was provided health education with the same class schedule as the mindfulness group regarding frequency and duration. However, no specific goals were set for participants during sessions, and information on mindfulness and exercise was excluded. At the six-month mark, there was no significant difference in cognitive functioning between the mindfulness and control groups.2
Mindfulness meditation debunked? Maybe not.
Despite the negative outcome of no significant difference in cognitive function between the groups, the authors emphasize that the study design could have influenced the results. The researchers also acknowledge that other studies have provided evidence to suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction could improve cognitive function.2,3 Finally, the population being studied is clearly an important variable in the results, and more research is needed to prove or disprove a longtime practiced habit as being without value.
- Wielgosz J, Goldberg SB, Kral TRA, Dunne JD, Davidson RJ. Mindfulness meditation and psychopathology. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2019;15:285-316. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6597263/
- Lenze EJ et al. Effects of mindfulness training and exercise on cognitive function in older adults. JAMA. 2022;328(22):2218-2229. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2799406?guestAccessKey=e2fb076f-bae2-4c0d-9659-5676e42ad71a&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=121322
- Whitfield T et al. The effect of mindfulness-based programs on cognitive function in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuropsychology Review. 2022;32:677-702. https://doi.org/10.1007%2Fs11065-021-09519-y