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Mindful : August 2014
A new study on Marines during pre- deployment concludes that mindfulness improves working memory and reduces negative emotions. Sharon Begley asks: If mindfulness regimens can help Marines make better decisions during times of great stress, what might it do for police, firefighters, or indeed, all of us? Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. War is hell. And while troops aren’t at risk of enemy fire during the weeks leading up to their deployment to a combat zone, pre-deployment deser ves a circle in Dante’s creation, too. As soldiers contemplate leaving their families and shipping out to a place where people may shoot at them, the resulting anxiety, trepidation, a nd confusion can take a toll on their cog- nitive functioning. Their decision-making, at tention, memory, and judgment can all be impaired, not exactly a good mental state in which to go to war. Pre-deployment is therefore a good situation in which to test the effects of mindfulness meditation. That’s why Elizabeth Sta nley, of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, developed Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT, pronounced M-Fit). A former army captain, Stanley (whose family has served in the U.S. Army for nine generations) had firsthand experience of stress in war zones, including in Bosnia. She hoped to show that mindfulness training could build resilience and optimize individual and team performance. For her first program assessing the effectiveness of mindfulness training for militar y person- nel pre-deployment, she col- laborated with Amishi Jha, one of the leading research psychologists investigating how attention a nd working memory can be enhanced. A better working memory—the mental scratchpad our brain uses to keep information for several seconds so it can be accessed and manipulated to solve problems, make deci- sions, or send to long-term storage—ca n ma ke people more resilient in the face of stress. Training memory and attention, facets of cog nition, can improve the circuitry needed to regulate emotions: how we cope with stress. When Memory is Under Attack mind science 24 mindful August 2014 Illustration by Gavin Potenza