J. McMurray, L. Barkhurst, J. Konovalov, W. Taylor, and D.B. Thorp

Gonzaga University, Spokane WA

PURPOSE: To investigate whether a calmer, reduced-stress state, derived from the reported increase in parasympathetic effects associated with deep breathing will improve short-term learning ability, memory formation, and retention. METHODS: Fifteen participants (5 male, 10 female, age = 20.9 ± 1.0 yr.) performed two trials, each consisting of a unique ten-minute breathing stage, followed by a fifteen-minute learning task, and a memory recall test. In one trial, the breathing stage involved subjects performing deep nasal breathing (DB), reducing respiratory rate (RR) to approximately ten breaths per minute. In the other trial, subjects followed their normal breathing pattern (NB). In each trial, the learning task consisted of memorization of thirty unique word-picture pairs; each pair comprised of a picture of an everyday object and an artificial word. Immediately after the learning, subjects completed a short-term memory test assessing their ability to recall the word-picture pairs. Trial order was counterbalanced. Test scores, RR, mean arterial pressure (MAP), and measures of heart rate variability (high frequency (HF) band, low frequency (LF) band, and LF/HF ratio) were collected. Data were analyzed using two-way repeated measures analysis of variance to examine effects of stage (breathing vs. learning) and type of breathing (DB vs. NB). RESULTS: There was no significant difference in memory test scores between NB and DB (p=.784). During the breathing stage, RR was lower when DB (9.66 ± 1.40 breaths/min) compared to NB (14.54 ± 3.67 breaths/min) but was similar between both DB (16.60 ± 3.10 breaths/min) and NB (17.42 ± 3.31 breaths/min) trials during the learning stage (p=.008). MAP was higher when DB (81.79 ± 7.85 mmHg) compared to NB (77.72 ± 4.72 mmHg) during the breathing stage but was similar between both DB (83.29 ± 6.53 mmHg) and NB (83.90 ± 6.98 mmHg) during the learning stage (p=.025). Neither the stage nor the type of breathing had a significant effect on the HF bands (p=.053, p=.565), LF bands (p=.314, p=.589), and LF/HF ratios (p=.732, p=.495), suggesting no change in autonomic status. CONCLUSION: Physiological changes induced by deep breathing were acute and did not carry over to the learning stage. Furthermore, a ten-minute deep breathing exercise did not improve short-term memory.

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