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Top 10 recent scientific studies on the value of mindfulness in education


More and more stud­ies are show­ing the poten­tial ben­e­fits of mind­ful­ness prac­tices for stu­dents –to improve phys­i­cal health, psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being, social skills, even aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance in some cas­es– as well as for teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors –pri­mar­i­ly to reduce stress and burnout–.

To give you an update on the land­scape of sci­en­tif­ic research about the role of mind­ful­ness in edu­ca­tion, here goes our selec­tion of ten recent stud­ies, all of them recent ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­als, with brief descrip­tions of each pro­vid­ed by Emi­ly Camp­bellresearch assis­tant at the Greater Good Sci­ence Cen­ter.

Flook, L., Gold­berg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & David­son, R. J. (2013). Mind­ful­ness for teach­ers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teach­ing effi­ca­cy. Mind, Bri­an, and Edu­ca­tion, 7(3), 182–195.

This study reports results from a ran­dom­ized con­trolled pilot tri­al of a mod­i­fied Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion course (mMB­SR) adapt­ed specif­i­cal­ly for teach­ers. Results sug­gest that the course may be a promis­ing inter­ven­tion, with par­tic­i­pants show­ing sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tions in psy­cho­log­i­cal symp­toms and burnout, improve­ments in observ­er-rat­ed class­room orga­ni­za­tion and per­for­mance on a com­put­er task of affec­tive atten­tion­al bias, and increas­es in self-com­pas­sion. In con­trast, con­trol group par­tic­i­pants showed declines in cor­ti­sol func­tion­ing over time and increas­es in burnout. Changes in mind­ful­ness were cor­re­lat­ed in the expect­ed direc­tion with changes across sev­er­al out­comes (psy­cho­log­i­cal symp­toms, burnout, and sus­tained atten­tion) in the inter­ven­tion group.

Jen­nings, P. A., Frank, J. L., Snow­berg, K. E., Coc­cia, M. A., & Green­berg, M. T. (2013). Improv­ing class­room learn­ing envi­ron­ments by cul­ti­vat­ing aware­ness and resilience in edu­ca­tion (CARE): Results of a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. School Psy­chol­o­gy Quar­ter­ly. Advance online pub­li­ca­tion. doi: 10.1037/spq0000035

Cul­ti­vat­ing Aware­ness and Resilience in Edu­ca­tion (CARE for Teach­ers) is a mind­ful­ness-based pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment pro­gram designed to reduce stress and improve teach­ers’ per­for­mance and class­room learn­ing envi­ron­ments. A ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al exam­ined pro­gram effi­ca­cy and accept­abil­i­ty among a sam­ple of 50 teach­ers ran­dom­ly assigned to CARE or wait­list con­trol con­di­tion. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the CARE pro­gram result­ed in sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in teacher well- being, effi­ca­cy, burnout/­time-relat­ed stress, and mind­ful­ness com­pared with con­trols. Eval­u­a­tion data showed that teach­ers viewed CARE as a fea­si­ble, accept­able, and effec­tive method for reduc­ing stress and improv­ing per­for­mance.

Roeser, R. W., Schon­ert-Reichl, K. A., Jha, A., Cullen, M., Wal­lace, L., Wilen­sky, R., Ober­le, E., Thom­son, K., Tay­lor, C., & Har­ri­son, J. (2013, April 29). Mind­ful­ness Train­ing and Reduc­tions in Teacher Stress and Burnout: Results From Two Ran­dom­ized, Wait­list-Con­trol Field Tri­als. Jour­nal of Edu­ca­tion­al Psy­chol­o­gy. Advance online pub­li­ca­tion. doi: 10.1037/a0032093

The effects of ran­dom­iza­tion to mind­ful­ness train­ing (MT) or to a wait­list-con­trol con­di­tion on psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal indi­ca­tors of teach­ers’ occu­pa­tion­al stress and burnout were exam­ined in 2 field tri­als. The sam­ple includ­ed 113 ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school teach­ers (89% female) from Cana­da and the Unit­ed States. Teach­ers ran­dom­ized to MT showed greater mind­ful­ness, focused atten­tion and work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ty, and occu­pa­tion­al self-com­pas­sion, as well as low­er lev­els of occu­pa­tion­al stress and burnout at post-pro­gram and fol­low-up, than did those in the con­trol con­di­tion. Group dif­fer­ences in mind­ful­ness and self- com­pas­sion at post-pro­gram medi­at­ed reduc­tions in stress and burnout as well as symp­toms of anx­i­ety and depres­sion at fol­low-up.

Tang, Y., Yang, L., Leve, L. D., & Harold, G. T. (2012). Improv­ing exec­u­tive func­tion and its neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms through a mind­ful­ness-based inter­ven­tion: Advances with­in the field of devel­op­men­tal neu­ro­science. Child Devel­op­ment Per­spec­tives, 6(4), 361–366.

Mind­ful­ness-based inter­ven­tions that focus on increas­ing aware­ness of one’s thoughts, emo­tions, and actions have been shown to improve spe­cif­ic aspects of exec­u­tive func­tion (EF), includ­ing atten­tion, cog­ni­tive con­trol, and emo­tion reg­u­la­tion. This arti­cle reviews research rel­e­vant to one spe­cif­ic mind­ful­ness-based inter­ven­tion, inte­gra­tive body-mind train­ing (IBMT). Ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­als of IBMT indi­cate improve­ments in spe­cif­ic EF com­po­nents, and unique­ly high­light the role two brain-based mech­a­nisms that under­lie IBMT-relat­ed improve­ments. Short-term IBMT may improve spe­cif­ic dimen­sions of EF and thus pre­vent a cas­cade of risk behav­iors for chil­dren and ado­les­cents.

Carei, T. R., Fyfe-John­son, A. L., Bre­uner, C. C., & Brown, M. A. (2010). Ran­dom­ized con­trolled clin­i­cal tri­al of yoga in the treat­ment of eat­ing dis­or­ders. Jour­nal of Ado­les­cent Health, 46, 346–351.

This was a pilot project designed to assess the effect of indi­vid­u­al­ized yoga treat­ment on eat­ing dis­or­der out­comes among ado­les­cents receiv­ing out­pa­tient care for diag­nosed eat­ing dis­or­ders. 50 girls and 4 boys, aged 11–21 years, were ran­dom­ized to an 8 week tri­al of stan­dard care ver­sus indi­vid­u­al­ized yoga plus stan­dard care. The yoga group demon­strat­ed greater decreas­es in eat­ing dis­or­dered symp­toms. Both groups main­tained cur­rent BMI lev­els and decreased in anx­i­ety and depres­sion over time.

Flook, L., Smal­l­ey, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Gal­la, B. M., Kaiser-Green­land, S., Locke, J., … Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mind­ful aware­ness prac­tices on exec­u­tive func­tions in ele­men­tary school chil­dren. Jour­nal of Applied School Psy­chol­o­gy, 26(1), 70–95.

A school-based pro­gram of mind­ful aware­ness prac­tices (MAPs) was eval­u­at­ed in a ran­dom­ized con­trol study of 64 sec­ond- and third-grade chil­dren ages 7–9 years. The pro­gram was deliv­ered for 30 min­utes, twice per week, for 8 weeks. Chil­dren in the MAPs group who were less well reg­u­lat­ed showed greater improve­ment in exec­u­tive func­tion (EF) com­pared with con­trols. Specif­i­cal­ly, those chil­dren start­ing out with poor EF who went through the MAPs train­ing showed gains in behav­ioral reg­u­la­tion, metacog­ni­tion, and over­all glob­al exec­u­tive con­trol.

Gregos­ki, M. J., Barnes, V. A., Tin­gen, M. S., Harsh­field, G. A., & Treiber, F. A. (2010). Breath­ing aware­ness med­i­ta­tion and LifeSkills Train­ing Pro­grams influ­ence upon ambu­la­to­ry blood pres­sure and sodi­um excre­tion among African Amer­i­can ado­les­cents.Jour­nal of Ado­les­cent Health, 48, 59–64.

To eval­u­ate the effects of breath­ing aware­ness med­i­ta­tion (BAM), Botvin LifeSkills Train­ing (LST), and health edu­ca­tion con­trol (HEC), 166 African Amer­i­can ado­les­cent par­tic­i­pants with mod­er­ate­ly high blood pres­sure (and thus an increased risk for devel­op­ment of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease) were ran­dom­ized by school to either BAM (n = 53), LST (n = 69), or HEC (n = 44). In-school inter­ven­tion ses­sions were admin­is­tered for 3 months by health edu­ca­tion teach­ers. The BAM treat­ment exhib­it­ed the great­est over­all decreas­es in blood pres­sure and heart rate.

Sem­ple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A ran­dom­ized tri­al of mind­ful­ness-based cog­ni­tive ther­a­py for chil­dren: Pro­mot­ing mind­ful atten­tion to enhance social-emo­tion­al resilien­cy in chil­dren. Jour­nal of Child and Fam­i­ly Stud­ies, 19(2), 218–229.

Pro­gram devel­op­ment of mind­ful­ness-based cog­ni­tive ther­a­py for chil­dren (MBCT‑C) is described along with results of the ini­tial ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. Par­tic­i­pants were boys and girls aged 9–13 (N = 25), most­ly eth­nic minori­ties from low-income, inner-city house­holds. Par­tic­i­pants who com­plet­ed the pro­gram showed few­er atten­tion prob­lems than wait-list­ed con­trols and those improve­ments were main­tained at three months fol­low­ing the inter­ven­tion. A strong rela­tion­ship was found between atten­tion prob­lems and behav­ior prob­lems. Sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tions in anx­i­ety symp­toms and behav­ior prob­lems were found for those chil­dren who report­ed clin­i­cal­ly ele­vat­ed lev­els of anx­i­ety at pretest.

Mendel­son, T., Green­berg, M. T., Dar­i­o­tis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoad­es, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Fea­si­bil­i­ty and pre­lim­i­nary out­comes of a school-based mind­ful­ness inter­ven­tion for urban youth. Jour­nal of Abnor­mal Child Psy­chol­o­gy, 38(7), 985–994.

Mind­ful­ness-based approach­es may improve adjust­ment among chron­i­cal­ly stressed and dis­ad­van­taged youth by enhanc­ing self-reg­u­la­to­ry capac­i­ties. This paper reports find­ings from a pilot ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al assess­ing the fea­si­bil­i­ty, accept­abil­i­ty, and pre­lim­i­nary out­comes of a school-based mind­ful­ness and yoga inter­ven­tion. Four urban pub­lic schools were ran­dom­ized to an inter­ven­tion or wait-list con­trol con­di­tion (n?=?97 fourth and fifth graders, 60.8% female). Find­ings sug­gest the inter­ven­tion was attrac­tive to stu­dents, teach­ers, and school admin­is­tra­tors and that it had a pos­i­tive impact on prob­lem­at­ic respons­es to stress includ­ing rumi­na­tion, intru­sive thoughts, and emo­tion­al arousal.

Biegel, G. M., Brown, K. W., Shapiro, S. L., & Schu­bert, C. M. (2009). Mind­ful­ness-based stress reduc­tion for the treat­ment of ado­les­cent psy­chi­atric out­pa­tients: A ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­al. Jour­nal of Con­sult­ing and Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gy, 77, 855–866.

The present ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­al was designed to assess the effect of the mind­ful­ness-based stress reduc­tion (MBSR) pro­gram for 102 ado­les­cents age 14 to 18 years with dif­fer­ent diag­noses in an out­pa­tient psy­chi­atric facil­i­ty. Rel­a­tive to treat­ment-as-usu­al con­trol par­tic­i­pants, those receiv­ing MBSR self-report­ed reduced symp­toms of anx­i­ety, depres­sion, and somat­ic dis­tress, and increased self-esteem and sleep qual­i­ty. Also, the MBSR group showed a high­er per­cent­age of diag­nos­tic improve­ment over the 5‑month study peri­od and sig­nif­i­cant increas­es in glob­al assess­ment of func­tion­ing scores rel­a­tive to con­trols.

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