Mindfulness improves verbal learning and memory through enhanced encoding

Mem Cognit. 2019 Nov;47(8):1531-1545. doi: 10.3758/s13421-019-00947-z.


Recent research has begun to demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness in improving certain cognitive abilities, including verbal learning and memory. However, no research has investigated the potential mechanism by which mindfulness may improve verbal learning and memory. We examined encoding, consolidation, and retrieval as potential mechanisms by which learning and memory may be increased on a list learning test (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Task; RAVLT). After dividing participants into either a mindfulness or a control condition, in which they listened to a 10-min audio tape, results found that the mindfulness condition significantly outperformed the control condition on every RAVLT trial. Using the Item-Specific Deficit Approach, we discovered that this enhanced verbal learning and memory was specifically due to a significantly enhanced encoding process for the mindfulness group, which fully mediated the relationship between the mindfulness condition and performance on the RAVLT. There were no differences between the conditions on consolidation or retrieval. Furthermore, these improvements were not accompanied by improvements in verbal fluency or attention. In a second study, we presented a mindfulness or control audio before the first RAVLT delayed free-recall trial and another one before the second RAVLT delayed free-recall trial in order to better determine the effect of mindfulness on consolidation and retrieval. The results replicated Study 1, in that neither consolidation nor retrieval were significantly affected by mindfulness. This research indicates that mindfulness may primarily improve verbal learning and memory through improved encoding processes.

Keywords: Encoding; Learning; Memory; Mindfulness; Verbal.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Young Adult