The Effect of Mindful Breathing on Working Memory

The Effect of Mindful Breathing on Working Memory and Serial-Position Effect Muhammad Izzuan bin Munir (1426931)PSYC 3070 Experimental PsychologySection 2Department of PsychologyKulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human SciencesSemester 1, 2017/2018International Islamic University of Malaysia          

AbstractThe purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of mindful breathing on working memory and serial position effect. The design used in this study was between-subject design. The sample consist of 40 undergraduate students in a public university in Malaysia with age range from 19 – 24 years old. The participants were selected using convenient sampling technique. The participants was divided randomly into two groups in which experimental group will do mindful breathing for 5 minutes while control group do not do anything before being shown the Powerpoint slides. Participants were given 3 minutes to recall as many words as possible. The data was analyzed by using independent sample t-test. For working memory, the result shows that there was no significant difference between control and experimental group. This is due to small sample size. However for serial position effect, there was a significant difference between control and experimental group. This show that mindful breathing may have effect on serial position effect but not on working memory.   Keywords: Powerpoint slides, convenient sampling, between-subject design,          IntroductionMindful breathing as stated in a research done by Czekaj, Leung, Jeevananthan, Schiedermayer and Wu (2012) is considered as one of the meditation technique while in other research done by Burg, Wolf and Michalak (2012) mindful breathing is a technique that was done to achieve as what is call as mindfulness. However even though they use different terminology, both this research are discussing the same thing which is mindful breathing because their steps in conducting the mindful breathing is almost the same as stated in the procedure part in their research. Mindful breathing is defined as a mental exercise that focuses on the sensations of breathing while in relaxed state of mind (Czekaj et al., 2012). Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David and Goolkasian (2009) also agree with this definition in which they state in their research by using the term mindful meditation is a mental practice based on focusing on the sensations of the breath or body while maintaining a relaxed state of mind.According to Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong and Gelfand (2010), mindful breathing or mindfulness have its own benefit such as reducing the likelihood of subsequent depressive episodes in some patients at heightened risk for depression relapse. Other benefit also found in Burg et al. (2012) in which they mentioned that mindfulness promotes healthy functioning and adaptive self-regulation or emotion and behavior. The benefit of mindful breathing or mindfulness meditation does not stop right there because this technique also proven can reduce the symptoms of a few disorders including anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and also chronic pain (Holzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, Gard and Lazar, 2011). Based on all of this evidences, it is crystal clear that mindful breathing can lead to a more positive and increase the quality of life.  However, apart from all this evidences we only found a few research that talks about the relation of mindful breathing with working memory and serial position effect. In the past, there were a lot of research done regarding working memory and also serial position effect such as research done by Reed, Chih-Ta, Aggleton and Rawlins (1991) and also Garcea in 2009, but there were only few studies that being done to relate mindful breathing and working memory. This is also supported by Alberts and Thewissen (2011) in which according to both of them, no studies have directly addressed the link between mindfulness and memory process.Before we go further, we need to know that working memory is defined as a processing resource of limited capacity, involved in the preservation of information while simultaneously processing the same or other information (Swanson & Howell, 2001). In other words mentioned by Baranski (2017), working memory is a core cognitive construct that is thought to support many forms of higher order cognition. From this definition, we can conclude that working memory is a place where we store any information for a short term period. Next is serial position effect, in which stated in Reed et al. (1991) is defined as when a number of items are serially presented, humans tend to recall the items at the beginning and at the end of the list better than the items in the middle of the list. They also highlighted that, recall of the items at the beginning of the list is referred to as primacy and recall of items at the end of the list is referred to as recency (Reed et al., 1991).Hence, in this research we would like to investigate the effects of mindful breathing on working memory and serial position effect. This research is the extension of past research done by Garcea, (2009) but the differences is we have an intervention of mindful breathing at the beginning of the experiment and we do not test the von Restorff effect. Therefore it is hypothesized that:1) Participants who do mindful breathing recall significantly more words correctly than those who do not do mindful breathing. 2) Participants who do mindful breathing will recall significantly more primacy and recency words than student who do not do mindful breathing. The independent variable in this study are the control group in which they do not do the mindful breathing and the experimental group in which they do the mindful breathing before recalling the words. The mindful breathing is a mental exercise that focuses on the sensations of breathing while in relaxed state of mind (Czekaj et al., 2012), as the participants will sit in relax uptight position, with their eyes closed, and simply to focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let “it” go, by bringing he attention back to the sensations of the breath (Zeidan et al., 2009). The two dependent variables of this study are working memory and serial position effect in which working memory in this study is operationally defined as the total numbers of words correctly recalled while serial position effect is the total primacy and recency words correctly recalled.                   Method Research DesignThe design of this study is between-subject design which have two groups consists of experimental group and control group. This is because the participants can be a part of experimental or control group but cannot be part of both. In addition, both groups received different treatment so that researcher can see different intervention being given and how it can affect the dependent variable.   Participants40 healthy undergraduate students with no blindness assessed through informed consent (refer to appendix A) from a public university in Malaysia consist of 14 males and 26 females with ages ranging from 19 to 24 (M = 21.98, SD = 1.00) were recruited by using convenient sampling technique. This is because of their convenient accessibility and proximity to the researcher. They also took part in this experiment voluntarily without knowing the hypothesis to prevent participant’s bias that might affect the results. MaterialsFor independent variable, the materials that we used in this experiment was an application that we downloaded from Google Playstore which is Mindfulness Guide Meditation for Stress with sole purpose to guide us and the participants on how to do the mindful breathing since we are not an expert and not trained in that area. In addition, we also found that the steps of mindful breathing shown in that application was aligned with the steps of mindful breathing that we found in the past research which indicate this application is reliable to be use as guidance for us to demonstrate the mindful breathing to the participants. We also used PowerPoint slides consist of 20 common concrete five-lettered words with black in color font. Concrete words here means that the words are about of things that exist physically but not abstract word. (refer to appendix B to see the list of words we use in the PowerPoint slides). Laptop also being used as medium to show the PowerPoint slides.For dependent variable the materials that we used is stopwatch from our own mobile phone to keep track of the time for the participants to do the mindful breathing and time for them to recall the words after watching the Powerpoint slides. Pen and blank A4 white paper were also used for the participants to write down all the words that they can recall. ProceduresThe potential participants were contacted through Whatsapp Messenger and being asked whether they can participate in this experiment or not. When they agreed to participate, time and place were set and they came to a designated area to do the experiment. Informed consent were given for them to fill, indicated as agreement to do the experiment and for us to know that they have met the criteria required to do this experiment which is they are healthy and not blind. Next, they also being assigned individually in random by using odd and even number system in which odd number assigned to control group and even number to experimental group. After that, they were briefed on what they have to do in this experiment by the researcher using the instruction sheet provided (refer to Appendix C). Some information were disclosed to avoid participant’s bias.For experimental group, after the briefing they have to do the mindful breathing first in which taught by the researcher using the Mindfulness Guide Meditation for Stress application as guidance. The mindful breathing technique was demonstrated by researcher until the participants understand the technique. After the participants understand the technique, they will be asked to do the mindful breathing for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes have ended, they were showed the PowerPoint slides which consist of 20 common concrete 5 lettered words with 2 seconds interval between each words on the laptop. After PowerPoint slides have ended, they were given 3 minutes to recall as many words as possible by writing them down on the blank white A4 paper using the pen provided. When 3 minutes has ended, the participants stopped writing and the correctly recalled words were recorded. Last but not least, the participants were debriefed after the experiment has ended.   For control group, after being given the briefing, they were directly showed the same PowerPoint slides that we showed to the experimental group on the laptop. The only differences with experimental group is that they were not being taught the mindful breathing technique because they did not have to do it at all. They also being given 3 minutes to recalled the words as many as they can and write it down after the PowerPoint slides ended. Their data was also recorded for further analysis.ResultAn independent sample t-test was conducted using IBM SPSS (version 22.0) to compare the differences in total number of correctly recalled words and the total number of primacy and recency words correctly recalled between the control and experimental group. For the total number of correctly recalled words, there was no significance differences between the group that do mindful breathing (M = 10.65, SD = 2.87) and the group that did not do mindful breathing (M = 9.05, SD = 2.61; t(38) = -1.85, p = .07, two-tailed) The mean difference is -1.60 with a 95% confidence interval ranging from -3.36 to -.16. (refer to Table 1). Therefore, we fail to reject the null hypothesis.   Table 1Independent Samples t-Test for Control and Experimental Group for Total Correctly Recall Words Participants GroupNMeanSDtdfSig. (2-tailed)95%Confidence IntervalLower  UpperMean DifferenceCorrectly Recalled WordsControl209.052.605-1.84638.073-3.36-.16-1.60Experimental2010.652.870*p > 0.05However, for the total of primacy and recency words correctly recalled, there was a significance differences between the group that do mindful breathing (M = 6.60, SD = 1.82) and the group that did not do mindful breathing (M = 5.30, SD = 1.46; t(38) = -2.50, p = .02, two-tailed). The magnitude of differences in the means (mean difference = -1.30, 95% CI: -2.35 to -.25) (refer to Table 2) was large (eta squared = 0.2) Hence, we reject the null hypothesis.Table 2Independent Samples t-Test for for Total Primacy and Recency Words Correctly Recall  Participants GroupNMeanSDtdfSig. (2-tailed)95% CILower  UpperMean DifferencePrimacy and Recency Words Correctly Recalled Control205.301.455-2.49738.017-2.35-.25-1.30 Experimental206.601.818*p < 0.05DiscussionThe purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of mindful breathing on working memory and serial position effect. For the first hypothesis, the result of this study shows that the group that do mindful breathing at the beginning of the experiment perform better in recalling more correct words compared to the group that did not do mindful breathing. However, the result shows no significant differences which indicated we fail to reject null hypothesis. In this finding, the total words recall was higher when the participants do mindful breathing compared to the control group. Our result was align with the research done by Gilbert (2013) in which the experimental groups perform better than the control groups and the only difference between our research and theirs is they are mixing the types of words such as positive, negative and neutral words while our research only use concrete common five lettered words because we want to focus on one theme of words only.    We also found that our results contradict result with the research done by Czekaj et al. (2012). However, there is major factor that we need to consider in order to compare our results with their results because Czekaj et al. (2012) highlighted in their research they use visual picture while we use words on the Powerpoint slides. There are differences in recalling pictures and words because studies done by Paivio, Rogers and Smythe (1968) stated that pictures will be easier to recall by participants because they are more easily and effectively stored in or retrieved from the long-term memory.For the second hypothesis, the results show the group that do mindful breathing recall higher total score of primacy and recency words compared to the group that did not do mindful breathing. In our findings, it seems that it is align with the past research done by Baranski (2017), in which their experimental group or the mindfulness group perform better compared to the other group. However, It is not a strong comparison because there are few differences in their study compared to our study. In his research, Baranski (2017) mentioned that he compared the group that receive mindfulness intervention with cognitive training group while we compared between group that do mindful breathing and the group that did not do mindful breathing. Other than that, Baranski (2017) stated that their research are using Automated Operation Span (OSPAN) to measure the effect of mindfulness on serial position effect in which the task required the participants to recall sequences of letters while verifying math questions. This clearly shown their research only focus on primacy effect while our research trying to investigate both primacy and recency effect. We can conclude that this is a weak comparison and more research is needed to support the relationship between mindful breathing and serial position effect. As same as other research, our research also have its own limitation and weakness. First, due to small sample size in this particular study the results cannot be generalized. Therefore, more participants should be recruited which can also include different races, age and background instead of only focusing on public university students only. Second, we would like to highlight the validity of the mindful breathing itself. During the research, few questions pops into our mind in which, did the participants really feel relax after doing the 5 minutes mindful breathing? How do we know they are already in relaxation state? Hence for future research, baseline measurement of mindfulness state need to be done to know the participants was already in relax state. As stated by Czekaj et al., (2012) to know the subjects already in relaxed state was, the blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and depth of breathing should be measured in the beginning and then compared it later after they done the mindful breathing so researcher will know when the participants already achieve relax state. The respiratory depth strap was placed around the chest of the experimental group subjects, and was connected to a computer program, which can distinctly show the subject's rate and depth of breathing (Czekaj et al., 2012). By following all these steps it can helps future researcher to know the participants has already achieve relax state.  Third, the baseline of working memory of each participants also need to be taken into consideration. This is because the capacity of working memory for every individuals is different (Barrett, Tugade & Engle, 2004). So, we need to know whether all the participants have the same range of working memory. Hence, memory test should be conducted first towards the potential participants before they can be recruited in order to have the same level of working memory capacity. Last but not least, our research only required the participants to recall the concrete common five lettered words and is this really enough to be the indicator to measure the effect of mindful breathing on working memory or serial position effect? In upcoming study, other variables can be included such as using pictures or even personal memories because Baranski (2017) mentioned that the other possible criteria required to study the relation between this two variables are: (1) using multiple objective outcome measures, (2) using outcome measures that are considered valid indicators of working memory capacity and last but not least, (3) using outcome measures that are different from the task participants train on.           ReferencesAlberts, H. J. E. M., & Thewissen, R. (2011). The effect of a brief mindfulness intervention on memory for positively and negatively valenced stimuli. Mindfulness, 2(2), 73-77.Baranski, M. F. S. (2017). 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