Meditate to Forget? Should We Worry About Mindfulness?

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Does Meditation Lead to Poorer Memory?

In general, science is a fan of meditation. Many papers have reported tangible results from its practice. Whether it’s improving our attention span, making us smarter or boosting our creativity, meditation has been shown to greatly benefit the mind. Mindfulness has also been shown to be beneficial to our overall health.

Unfortunately, a new study has put a potential dampener on the cheer-leading session. According to research by the University of California, San Diego, mindfulness may negatively impact on memory. The study found that participants who practiced mindfulness for 15 minutes had difficulty in distinguishing between real and imagined events.

“When memories of imagined and real experiences too closely resemble each other, people can have difficulty determining which is which, and this can lead to falsely remembering imagined experiences as actual experiences,” first author, Brent M. Wilson

The study consisted of three experiments. In the first, one group of undergraduate students were guided through a mindfulness session in which they were instructed to focus on their breathing without judgement. A second, control group were told to allow their minds to wander. Both sessions lasted fifteen minutes.

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Both groups were then shown a list of words related to refuse. Being an American study the word “trash” was deliberately avoided as this would be the word most commonly associated with the subject. Other words were used like rubbish, garbage, waste and so on. They were then asked to remember as many words as they could. Twice as many students who participated in the mindfulness session falsely identified being shown the word “trash” as those in the control group.

The second experiment gave all the students a word recall test. Then came either the mindfulness or thought wandering and then the trash word test. Those who engaged in mindfulness were again more likely to falsely recall the word “trash” even after adjusting for their first baseline test.

The third and final experiment showed different words to students and later asked them to recall which words they had been shown. Both groups fared equally on remembering words they had been shown but the mindfulness group incorrectly identified more words that were merely related to words on the list.

“As a result, the same aspects of mindfulness that create countless benefits can also have the unintended negative consequence of increasing false-memory susceptibility,” Wilson et al


The researchers conclude that mindfulness training may cause difficulties in remembering the source of a memory. Practitioners may falsely remember things that they imagined and not actually happened.

Have you experienced fuzzy memories? Let me know in the comments!


  • Increased False-Memory Susceptibility After Mindfulness Meditation
  • APS – mindfulness-may-make-memories-less-accurate

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Science is a fan of mindfulness. It bestows many health benefits. But what if it messes with our memories?
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