Several minutes of daily meditation training, using a closed-loop app over a 6-week period, improves the attention span of healthy young adults in a small study published online this week in Nature Human Behaviour.
Recent research has shown that media and technology multitasking can affect on a young adult’s ability to pay attention, which can present challenges for decision-making, memory and emotional regulation. Existing efforts to boost focus have had limited success.
David Ziegler, Adam Gazzaley and colleagues developed a meditation training app and provided it to 22 users, aged 18-35, to use for several minutes per day over a 6-week period. They also observed a control group of 20 young adults using unrelated meditation apps over the same amount of time. The app designed by the authors instructed users to focus on their breathing while remaining aware of their mind’s wandering. Based on the user’s self-reporting of mind-wandering, the app then adjusted the duration of the following focusing trial.
The authors found that participants using their app showed improved ability to focus on their breathing - from an average of 20 seconds per day to 6 minutes by day 30. They also showed transfer benefits in separate tests of sustained attention and working memory conducted 1-2 weeks following the 6-week trial. These improvements were also reflected in brain activity measured by electroencephalogram (EEG). Comparatively, the control group did not demonstrate such improvements.
The authors acknowledge that further research is needed in a larger study to determine whether the positive findings reported in this paper are applicable to the broader population and whether they last longer than 1-2 weeks after training.