If you need to be at your sharpest mentally it might be worth your time to take a meditation break. College students who listened to a 10-minute meditation tape were able to complete simple cognitive tasks more quickly and accurately as a result.
That’s according to the results of a new study conducted by Yale University and Swarthmore College. The report, recently published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, explained that even students who had never meditated before were able to benefit from a short meditation practice.
"We have known for a while that people who practice meditation for a few weeks or months tend to perform better on cognitive tests, but now we know you don't have to spend weeks practicing to see improvement," said Yale associate professor Hedy Kober.
Kober and Catherine Norris from Swarthmore partnered on the study. They randomly divided two sets of college students into two groups for two different sets of tests. Both sets of students in the study group listened to a 10-minute recording on meditation and the control groups listened to the recitation of a story about trees.
The meditation tape was oriented toward beginners and led participants through a breath-focused mindfulness exercise with instructions such as “please notice and begin to follow the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath, not trying to change it in any way,” and “stay open and curious about your experience.”
The control group tape was a reading of a National Geographic article about giant sequoias. Both tapes were recorded by the same person and used that same speed of speech and same number of words.
The participants were asked to complete simple tasks to measure cognitive ability after listening to the tape. They were also given a self-report survey designed to measure openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Those who listened to the meditation tape scored significantly better across both cognitive tests. The only ones that did not benefit from the meditation tape were those who scored highest in neuroticism (“I worry all the time”).