Improve Working Memory in Adolescents with Mindful Movement

Improve Working Memory in Adolescents with Mindful Movement


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Mindfulness meditation causes structural changes in the brain. It actually alters connections between brain cells. That is how adults end up with an enlarged cortex. And that may explain why meditation improved memory in the teens.” – Alison Pearce Stevens


Humans have both an amazing capacity to remember and a tremendously limited capacity depending upon which phase of the memory process. Our long-term store of information is virtually unlimited. On the other hand, short-term memory is extremely limited. This is called our working memory and it can contain only about 5 to 9 pieces of information at a time. This fact of a limited working memory store shapes a great deal about how we think, summarize, and categorize our world.


Memory ability is so important to everyday human functioning that it is important to study ways to maintain or improve it. Short-term, working, memory can be improved. Mindfulness has been shown to improve working memory capacity. Yoga practice has also been shown to have improve memory and reduce the decline in memory ability that occurs with aging. In addition Tai Chi practice has also been shown to improve memory. These effects are well established in adults but have not been explored in adolescents. It is thus important to study the detailed effects of mindful movement practice on working memory ability in adolescents.


In today’s Research News article “Meditative Movement Affects Working Memory Related to Neural Activity in Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Kang and colleagues recruited healthy adolescents, aged 17-18 years, who were naïve to meditative or mindful movement practices. They were randomly assigned to either a relaxation control condition or to receive training in meditative movement. Relaxation and meditative movements were practiced for 9 minutes twice a day for 3 weeks.


Before and after training they were measured for working memory while simultaneously having their electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded. They were presented with a sequence of audio and visual targets and had to recall the target presented a number of positions back in the series, the further back they could successfully go, the better the working memory.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the relaxation group, the group that performed meditative movements had a significantly greater improvement in working memory, being able to recall targets further back in the sequence. They also found for the meditative movement group but not the relaxation group that the better the working memory score the lower the power of the high beta frequency (30-40 hz. Waves per second) in the EEG over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.


These results suggest that meditative movement practice improves working (short-term) memory and that this improvement was related to changes in the EEG. The high beta frequency in the EEG has been shown to be related to filtering irrelevant information in working memory and thereby to improve working memory. So, the EEG data are compatible with the memory data suggesting better brain processing of working memory underlay the better working memory.


The study did not have a follow-up beyond the time immediately after the 3-week training period. It would be important in future research to investigate the duration of the effect by having follow-up measurements at delayed intervals. Also, the control condition in the present study was sedentary while the meditative movement training was active. It would be important for future research to include an active control perhaps performing a non-meditative exercise.


Regardless, the study demonstrates that improved working memory results from meditative movement practice in adolescents as has previously been found for adults. The improvement in working memory is important particularly for adolescents who are in a very active learning period of their lives. Working memory is the foundation for all memory and as such improvement would be important for their academic learning. It remains to be seen if meditative movement improves scholastic performance.


So, improve working memory in adolescents with mindful movement.


A critical part of attention (and working memory capacity) is being able to ignore distraction. There has been growing evidence that meditation training (in particular mindfulness meditation) helps develop attentional control.” – About Memory


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Kang H, An SC, Kim NO, Sung M, Kang Y, Lee US and Yang H-J (2020) Meditative Movement Affects Working Memory Related to Neural Activity in Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Front. Psychol. 11:931. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00931


Numerous studies have revealed that meditative movement changes brain activity and improves the cognitive function of adults. However, there is still insufficient data on whether meditative movement contributes to the cognitive function of adolescents whose brain is still under development. Therefore, this study aimed to uncover the effects of meditative movement on the cognitive performance and its relation with brain activity in adolescents. Forty healthy adolescent participants (mean age of 17∼18) were randomly allocated into two groups: meditative movement and control group. The meditative movement group was instructed to perform the meditative movement, twice a day for 9 min each, for a duration of 3 weeks. During the same time of the day, the control group was instructed to rest under the same condition. To measure changes in cognitive abilities, a dual n-back task was performed before and after the intervention and analyzed by repeated two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). During the task, electroencephalogram signals were collected to find the relation of brain activity with working memory performance and was analyzed by regression analysis. A repeated two-way ANOVA with Bonferroni correction showed that working memory performance was significantly increased by meditative movement compared with the retest effect. Based on regression analysis, the amplitude of high-beta rhythm in the F3 channel showed a significant correlation with dual n-back score in the experimental group after the intervention, while there was no correlation in the control group. Our results suggest that meditative movement improves the performance of working memory, which is related to brain activity in adolescents.


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