Mindfulness Helps Mood and Memory

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The University of Pennsylvania-led study in which training was provided to a high-stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training, or MT, and improvements in mood and working memory. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware and attentive of the present moment without emotional reactivity or volatility.

Mindfulness is the ability to be aware and attentive of the present moment without emotional reactivity or volatility.

This study discovered that the more time participants spent participating in some sort of daily mindfulness training (MT) exercises the better their mood and working memory became. The study also demonstrated that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress challenges that require a tremendous amount of cognitive control, self-awareness, situational awareness and emotional regulation.

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Cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha of the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Penn and Elizabeth A. Stanley of Georgetown University provided mindfulness training for the first time to U.S. Marines before deployment. The program, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), tries to develop greater psychological resilience or "mental armor" by encouraging mindfulness.

The program emphasized integrating mindfulness exercises, like focused attention on the breath and mindful movement, into pre-deployment training. These mindfulness skills were to regulate symptoms in the body and mind following an experience of extreme stress. The importance of regularly engaging in mindfulness exercises was also emphasized.

"Our findings suggest that, just as daily physical exercise leads to physical fitness, engaging in mindfulness exercises on a regular basis may improve mind-fitness," Jha said. "Working memory is an important feature of mind-fitness. Not only does it safeguard against distraction and emotional reactivity, but it also provides a mental workspace to ensure quick-and-considered decisions and action plans. Building mind-fitness with mindfulness training may help anyone who must maintain peak performance in the face of extremely stressful circumstances, from first responders, relief workers and trauma surgeons, to professional and Olympic athletes."

High stress demands such have been shown to deplete working memory capacity and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. The research team hypothesized that MMFT may lessen these harmful effects by strengthening working memory capacity.

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