Torrey Totman

Examining the Influence of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognition and Empathy

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Torrey Totman
Major: Psychology
Advisors: Dr. Nathan Foster, Dr. Ashley Abraham

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool that can provide a sense of peace in the present. It enables a broader attentional awareness of one’s self and surroundings, which then leads to cognitive changes (e.g., Brown et al., 2016). The current study examined the influence of short-term mindfulness meditation on long-term memory, attention, and empathy. Thirty college students that participated in the current study were divided into three groups that differed in exposure to mindfulness. The Mindfulness Meditation group performed Open-Monitoring meditation. The Focused Attention group performed meditation that instructed participants to focus on a particular object or idea. The Control group completed simple math problems. Meditation instructions occurred over three sessions for 10 minutes each. I hypothesized the Mindfulness Meditation group would exhibit better recall, better attentional performance, and higher levels of empathy than the other groups. Results indicated better recall on the third session for the Mindfulness Meditation group compared to the other two groups. Thus, three sessions of brief mindfulness meditation were shown to improve long-term memory. The findings demonstrate that brief mindfulness meditation can influence cognition, but only for memory and not for attention.

Torrey will be online to field comments on April 16:
8-10am EDT (Asia: evening, Africa/Europe: afternoon)

24 thoughts on “Examining the Influence of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognition and Empathy”

  1. Great study, wish this were in person to ask lots of questions. Why do you think recall dropped from session 1-2, then rebounded strongly? I am surprised to not see an increase in empathy based on what I have read from Brackett and DeSteno on Emotional Intelligence & the prosocial emotions. Do you think the pandemic situation you mentioned had an impact on people’s empathy?

    1. Great question! I think that recall didn’t improve from session 1-2 because two days of mindfulness meditation isn’t a sufficient amount of time to effect cognition. A minium of three days are needed to show improvement. It’s possible that there could be other environmental factors that contributed to the decline in recall from session 1-2, but since the experiment was online it was difficult to control for them. Regarding your other question, I do think that it could be possible that the pandemic has impacted people’s empathy. One possible reason could be the lack of human interaction. With online learning/engagement becoming more widespread, it could cause a person to disconnect with other humans. Resulting in less empathy towards others.

      1. Strong message then for persistence, that it can take time to see the benefits. Are you continuing to grad school to pursue this idea further? I see many practical applications.

        1. This topic is very important and interesting to me so when I do attend grad school I would love to continue to pursue this idea! However, I am taking a gap year before I attend grad school.

  2. Congratulations, Torrey! I enjoyed learning about your research and findings on mindfulness!

  3. Hi Torrey! Awesome study!
    Do you think location of these studies made a difference? Like where it was completed at?

    1. Thanks Addie! I do think that the location played a big role. By conducting the experiment online and having participants perform a mediation in their own environment, it could have led to distractions and lack of attentional engagement with the experiment. However, it was also beneficial because the participants could have felt more comfortable performing a meditation in an environment that was familiar to them. Leading to a higher state of relaxation. Great question!

  4. Hi, Torrey, Congratulations on completing your I.S. Study. (I am the mom of a COW Alum from ’13 and I just love all the energy and enthusiasm in these presentations. You guys give me hope that we have a generation of intelligent, critical thinkers on the forefront. Very interesting topic. As an on-again-off-again meditator, I appreciated your explaining the difference between open monitoring meditation and focused attention meditation.

    I am a retired special ed teacher, and I am wondering how you see these meditation techniques applied in the classroom setting.

    Good luck with your gap year and grad studies!

    1. I think meditation techniques would be very beneficial in a classroom setting. School can be a very stressful environment for many students, unwanted anxiety and stress can distract students from learning. I think a quick 5-10 minute mediation to start off the day would alleviate some discomfort and stress in the classroom. Armed with a clear mind, students could pay more attention to the class discussions which would lead them to remember more information. Resulting in better learning and grade performance. Thank you for your question!

  5. Torrey, I’m so proud of you for tackling this topic! This study seems to have implications for students and people in the workforce. Congrats on finIShing 😊

  6. Great job TT!!! It was really fun to be apart of this study and see it come to fruition. This had made me think a lot about how mindful meditation can be used in many different applications. Congrats on all the hard work!!!!

  7. Hey Torrey! Interesting work, especially during a tough time like this! I can’t wait to see what you do in your future endeavors!

  8. Congrats, Torrey! Really exciting to see your research fully completed. Proud of you!

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