The purpose of this study was to examine the effects that yoga has on perceived stress levels and working memory capacity. The study consisted of two independent variables: condition (experienced yogi, novice) and period (pretest, posttest). The dependent variables examined for the study were perceived stress levels and working memory capacity. In the present study, 9 participants completed a questionnaire regarding perceived stress levels in addition to a task designed to measure working memory capacity, both of which were fulfilled prior to and subsequent to a yoga class. The hypothesis for the study was that yoga would decrease the participants� stress levels and as a result increase their working memory capacity. The results from the experiment were analyzed using a 2 x 2 repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). Overall, the results supported the hypothesis. The results suggest that yoga does have a positive impact on the reduction of stress levels in addition to an increased working memory capacity.
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
Thesis Title: Yoga Therapy for Stress Reduction & Increased Working Memory Capacity
Advisor: Dr. Lori Schmied, Professor of Psychology
Like a lot of her peers, Natalie Peaso '09 got a little stressed out when it came time to settle on a topic for her Senior Study. But unlike her peers, she chose to focus on the stress. Literally.
The idea for her study came about from her interest in the differences between Eastern and Western cultures, and particularly, how those cultures handle stress. Familiar with recent studies that claim that yoga reduces stress, she decided to incorporate into her research the traditional physical and mental disciplines that originated in India and the Hindu religion.
Peaso then began to explore other areas in which yoga could improve health and behavior. She wondered if Yoga could improve the working memory capacity of adults, and decided to make that a part of her study, as well. Peaso's four-chapter written report explores the lifestyles and health of individualistic societies (Western) and collective societies (Eastern). It also uses previous scientific findings and data analysis to support a hypothesis of “an active participant in Yoga will decrease stress levels, reduce negative health consequences caused by stress as well as increase working memory capacity for the individual.”
“Yoga therapy seems to address many of the issues found in the individualistic culture: obesity and obesity-related health issues, and stress and stress-related health issues which lead to attention and working memory capacity issues,” she wrote. “The goal of this study is to further investigate the effects of meditative and relaxation practice.”
Devising her own research experiments, she recruited nine participants from the Maryville College community through the method of convenience sampling. Four of the nine were “yogis” (regular yoga practitioners), and five were novices. Testing them before and after yoga, she had the yogis and novices complete a Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire and a computerized Operation Span, or Automated Ospan task, which is designed to measure their working memory.
Chapter three explains her hypothesis and data analysis. The data points to a few surprises, but it did, overall, suggest that participants experienced a reduction of stress and improvement of their working memory as a result of yoga.
Chapter four is a discussion in which Peaso gives a summary of the overall study and how her findings parallel what previous research has suggested about stress in Eastern and Western cultures.
According to Dr. Lori Schmied, Maryville College professor of psychology and Peaso's advisor, virtually no one has studied the benefits of yoga in regards to improving cognitive memory. In fact, when Peaso presented her thesis to the Southeastern Psychology Association on March 11, a professor of psychology from another college asked Peaso's permission to cite her study as a source.
“I valued her ability to work with data and come up with such an original interpretation. Natalie held herself � and this project � to an extremely high standard,” Schmied said.
The thoroughness of the project is one of several reasons Schmied recommended Peaso's Senior Study for the permanent library collection.
Peaso expressed that she was both surprised and honored when she found out her study had been recommended for the permanent collection. She described Schmied as a mentor and someone she respects because her advisor is “someone who challenges you, and I can't take anything seriously unless I am challenged.”
Peaso is currently working at Maryville-based Mane Support as a volunteer coordinator and military support group coordinator. The non-profit organization uses horses in therapy for individuals who have experienced grief and trauma.
“Horses were my first passion, and it is nice that I can blend my two key interests: psychology and horses,” she explained.
Peaso plans to attend graduate school at the University of Tennessee and study criminal behavior, possibly looking at the positive effects yoga might have on the behaviors of psychopaths and sociopaths.