A lot of students aren’t sure what to think when we mention meditation as a way to increase cognitive functioning. Sometimes they think we’re recommending a “monk-like” discipline where we want you to spend hours sitting in silence on the floor with your legs crossed and eyes closed. Furthermore, they think that you have to have practiced meditation for a long time in order to reap any benefits from it. Unfortunately these are just two of the misconceptions about meditation that causes students to think that meditation could never be something they’d enjoy or want to do. As a result, they ignore it and miss out on an incredible opportunity to increase their cognitive functioning and, in turn, help increase their MCAT scores.
Other students consider meditation a nice “theory,” something that isn’t actually proven to help. These students are wrong too. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects meditation can have on your mind and your performance. In this post, we’re going to look at the effects that meditation can have on focus and concentration. Have you ever been in the middle of a test and got distracted or found it impossible to concentrate on the passage or questions in front of you? Then meditation could help.
Fadel Zeidan, a postdoctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, conducted a study where he found that participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests after having done four days of meditation training for 20 minutes each day.
The results of just these four days of meditation training were somewhat comparable to the results received after extensive meditation training, showing that it’s possible to reap benefits from meditation practices in a short amount of time. Now that doesn’t mean that you meditate for four days and you’re done. It is something that you should continue to practice and that will generate even more positive effects as you continue to do it.
Curious about how Zeidan proved this? Let’s look at how he conducted his study. He took participants and split them into an experimental group (Group A) and a control group (Group B). Group A received the meditation training while Group B did not. Instead of receiving the meditation training, Group B instead spent the same amount of time listening to a reading of J.R.R Tolkein’s “The Hobbit.”
Both groups were given behavior tests before either the meditation training or reading session. The behavioral tests assessed mood, memory, visual attention, attention processing, and vigilance. These tests confirmed that Group A and Group B were roughly equal in all measures.
After the meditation or reading session both groups showed an improvement in measures relating to mood. However, only Group A displayed significant improvement in cognitive measures. Group A, which is again the group that received the meditation training, scored consistently higher averages in all of the cognitive tests than Group B. Furthermore, Group A scored as much as ten times better on a challenging test that involved the ability to sustain focus while holding other information in mind.
After the study, Zeidan noted that “Further study is warranted” and that he would like to take brain images to confirm brain changes that his study seems to indicate. However, according to Zeidan, the results of this study seems to show “strong evidence for the idea that we may be able to modify our own minds to improve our cognitive processing - most important in the ability to sustain attention and vigilance - within a week’s time.”
How about that? Through only a week’s worth of meditation training you could improve your ability to focus and concentrate. Think about how much better you would on a test, especially the MCAT, if you were able to truly focus on the passage in front of you and the questions that followed. It could really make quite a difference. As for what that meditation training should consist of, we’ll discuss that in another post. Until then, check out “Training Your Brain for MCAT Success” and “Improving Cognitive Functioning: Where to Learn How."
Nauert, R. (2010). Short-Term Meditation Is Beneficial. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 6, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/04/19/short-term-meditation-is-beneficial/12929.html