Study Shows Meditation Offers Visual Memory Benefits
has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring
about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science,
a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now
evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost
our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an
image in visual memory for a long time). That is, the meditation allows
practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness
that lasts for a limited period of time.
when we see something, it is kept in our visual short-term memory
for only a brief amount of time (images will begin to fade in a
matter of seconds). However, there have been reports of Buddhist
monks who have exceptional imagery skills and are able to maintain
complex images in their visual short-term memory for minutes, and
sometimes even hours. Led by psychologist Maria Kozhevnikov of George
Mason University, a team of researchers investigated the effects
of different styles of Buddhist meditation on visuospatial skills.
researchers focused on two styles of meditation: Deity Yoga (DY)
and Open Presence (OP). During DY meditation, the practitioner focuses
intently on an image of deity and his or her entourage. This requires
coming up with an immensely detailed, three-dimensional image of
the deity, and also focusing on the deity's emotions and environment.
In contrast, practitioners of OP meditation believe that pure awareness
cannot be achieved by focusing on a specific image and therefore,
they attempt to evenly distribute their attention while meditating,
without dwelling on or analyzing any experiences, images, or thoughts
that may arise.
these experiments, experienced DY or OP meditation practitioners
along with nonmeditators participated in two types of visuospatial
tasks, testing mental rotation abilities (e.g., being able to mentally
rotate a 3-D structure) and visual memory (e.g., being shown an
image, retaining it in memory and then having to identify it among
a number of other, related images). All of the participants completed
the tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes, while others rested
or performed non-meditative activities, and then completed a second
round of the tasks.
results revealed that all of the participants performed similarly
on the initial set of tests, suggesting that meditation does not
result in an overall, long-lasting improvement of visuospatial abilities.
However, following the meditation period, practitioners of the DY
style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both the mental
rotation task and the visual memory task compared to OP practitioners
and controls. These results indicate that DY meditation allows practitioners
to access greater levels of visuospatial memory resources, compared
to when they are not meditating. The authors state that this finding
"has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss,
and mental training." Although, they conclude, future studies
will need to examine if these results are specific to DY meditation,
or if these effects can also occur using other visual meditation
more information about this study, please contact: Maria Kozhevnikov
Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for
impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.
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