Healthy Living

Mindfulness Training Improves Test Scores, Working Memory, Reading Ability

Explanation: How Brain Training Can Make You Significantly Smarter
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Mind wandering can be a gift, such as in J.K. Rowling's case when she wandered into a cafe and penned down "Harry Potter," creating the best-selling book series in history.

Or it can be curse, in the case of a student struggling to concentrate during the SATs or GREs.

No matter the task at hand, mind wandering makes it difficult to concentrate and maintain focus.  According to Psychology Today, your mind wanders at least 30% of the time during normal tasks, while driving on an uncongested highway makes your mind wander about 70% of the time.  

Which is why researchers embarked on a performance study to see if people could really ward off drifting. How? Through mindfulness training.

"Despite the wide recognition that mind wandering is a pervasive and often disruptive influence in our lives, almost no research has established effective strategies for reducing mind wandering," said Michael Mrazek, a psychological scientist and lead author of the study at the University of California Santa Barbara, UCSB.  "We set out to find ways to reduce mind wandering and thereby improve performance within educational contexts,"

Researchers gathered 48 college students and assigned them to a mindfulness or a nutrition class.  These classes met four times a week for 45 minutes, and over the course of two weeks. 

The students also had to take a modified verbal reasoning portion of the GRE before the classes began and one more time after they finished the courses.

Those who received mindfulness training, which emphasized mental and physical strategies, boosted their reading ability and focus on tasks.  This improved their test scores by an equivalent of 16 points on the GREs, on average, compared to those in the nutrition course.

The study, which was published in Psychological Science, demonstrated that not only could the training boost reading comprehension, but also the working memory capacity, which was previously thought unchallengeable.

"This is the most complete and rigorous demonstration that mindfulness can reduce mind-wandering, one of the clearest demonstrations that mindfulness can improve working memory and reading, and the first study to tie all this together to show that mind-wandering mediates the improvements in performance," Mrazek said.

In the meantime, Luminosity is just one of those popular sites that offer programs and strategies to boost brain performance.

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