Summary: A form of meditation focused on unconditional kindness can enhance memory recall in individuals with a history of depression.
Participants engaged in daily ten-minute meditations aimed at promoting happiness, health, loving-kindness, and peace. Over four weeks, the meditation group saw increased retrieval of specific memories compared to the control group.
Both meditation and control participants (who engaged in coloring, an anxiety-reducing activity) experienced improved recall of positive-specific memories.
- The study involved 50 students with a history of depression who engaged in a daily kindness-focused meditation practice for four weeks.
- Compared to a control group that performed coloring activities, the meditation group saw a greater increase in the retrieval of specific memories.
- Both the meditation and coloring groups showed improved recall of positive-specific memories, but the meditation practice demonstrated a notable potential in making memories more specific and positive.
A meditation that guides people to practice unconditional kindness to themselves and others helps people with a history of depression recall specific personal memories, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Amanda Lathan and Barbara Dritschel of the University of St. Andrews, UK.
Autobiographic memory is essential to human functioning in areas such as self-concept, emotion regulation and problem-solving. Research has suggested that, among the cognitive processes disrupted by depression, the retrieval of autobiographical memory is often impaired.
In the new work, the researchers collected data on autographical memory for 50 students with a prior history of depression.
Participants were asked to write details of specific personal memories in response to cue words. As a control condition, 25 of the students were then assigned to digitally color an image each day—an intervention which has been shown to decrease anxiety.
The other 25 students were asked to participate in a daily ten-minute mediation which included visualizations of different individuals and a mantra encouraging happiness, health, loving-kindness and peace.
After four weeks, people who had been in the kindness meditation group had a greater increase in the retrieval of specific memories compared to those in the coloring group. Over time, the total memory specificity and levels of rumination improved for people who had been in the meditation intervention.
Recall of positive-specific memories also improved for people in both the meditation and coloring groups. However, correlations between the meditation group’s performance and the remoteness of memories were less clear.
The authors conclude that kindness and self-compassion meditations demonstrate initial promise as an intervention to influence autobiographic memory and make memories more specific and positive among people with depression.
The authors add: “Loving-kindness meditation was shown to improve features of autobiographical memory retrieval in remitted depression which might reduce a cognitive vulnerability to depression.
“The meditation further acted as a buffer for the effects of autobiographical memory when cognitive reactivity was induced.”
About this memory, meditation, and depression research news
Original Research: Open access.
“Increasing autobiographical memory specificity: Using kindness meditation to impact features of memory retrieval” by Amanda Lathan et al. PLOS ONE
Increasing autobiographical memory specificity: Using kindness meditation to impact features of memory retrieval
Individuals with a history of depression have an increased risk for future episodes. This risk has been linked with impaired features of autobiographical memory retrieval that remain when depressive symptoms abate, including memory specificity, remoteness, valence, and vantage perspective.
Rumination has been shown to influence these impairments and can be reduced via compassion training. We therefore investigated the effects of a self-compassion meditation on autobiographical memory retrieval in remitted depression.
Baseline data were collected (n = 50) using an extended version of the Autobiographical Memory Test where participants with remitted depression retrieved specific memories from a remote time period (10 cues) and from any time period (10 cues).
Valence and vantage perspective were rated. Participants were then randomly allocated to a self-compassion meditation or (control) colouring intervention group. Baseline measures were reassessed after four weeks of the intervention.
Results revealed increased retrieval of specific memories in the self-compassion group in comparison to the colouring group, and an increase in positive and field memories across groups while no remoteness changes were observed.
This self-compassion meditation demonstrated initial promise as an intervention to influence features of autobiographical memory retrieval in remitted depression. Improvements were shown in specificity, valence, and vantage perspective.
Addressing these features with this type of intervention might reduce a cognitive vulnerability to depression and should be investigated in future studies.