When Memory is Under Attack

A study suggests mindfulness improves working memory and reduces negative emotions in Marines before they deploy. 

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 deserves 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, and confusion can take a toll on their cognitive functioning. Their decision-making, attention, 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.

And that’s why Elizabeth Stanley, 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 was hoping 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 military personnel prior to deployment, she collaborated with Amishi Jha, one of the leading research psychologists investigating how attention and working…