Mindfulness for middle school students: Focusing awareness on the present moment can enhance academic performance and lower stress levels

Posted on August 28, 2019

There are two new studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that indicate that practicing mindfulness from a young age, in particular, in middle schoolers, helps their mental health and academics. The research shows that mindfulness is related directly to reduced stress, better performance in school and also less chances of suspensions and other disciplinary actions.

The research shows that increased implementation of mindfulness programs in middle schools globally could reap these benefits. In particular, the researchers found that besides reduced stress, there was also reduced activation of the amygdala which is the part of the brain that predominantly processes fear. This means that the level of benefits from this research could be even greater in the long run with regards to fears and fearful figures as John Gabrieli, the senior author of both studies, states.

Both the studies took place at charter schools in Boston. In one of the papers, the team from MIT monitored 100 sixth grade students by ensuring that half took coding classes as the control group, while the other half took mindfulness classes for eight weeks. The mindfulness exercises focused on bringing the middle schoolers to be more aware of their present moments. It was concluded from the study that the students in the mindfulness training group had lower stress levels at the end of the study and displayed less negative emotions such as anger, compared to the control group.

Furthermore, 40 of these students also allowed for brain imaging scans to be take before and after the mindfulness training occurred. This measured activity in the amygdala which the students looked on at a range of faces expressing different emotions. The fearful faces corresponded with a high level of activity in the amygdala before the training began. However, after the mindfulness training few students displayed increased activity in the amygdala while viewing fearful faces.

The second paper did not have any mindfulness training but instead used a survey/questionnaire to research the level of mindfulness in approximately 2000 students ranging from 5th to 8th grade. The questionnaire was based on the “Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale” and participants are asked to what degree their agree with various statements, e.g. “I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.”

The researchers in the second study compared the level of mindfulness to the students’ grades, standardized test scores, attendance rates and their number of suspensions. Thus, it was similarly concluded that students with better mindfulness performed better in school and had a greater emotional stability and level of mental health.

There are plans now to complete a full-year observation and study with a larger group of students in numerous schools to find more long term benefits and results. Gabrieli says that "Mindfulness is like going to the gym. If you go for a month, that's good, but if you stop going, the effects won't last. It's a form of mental exercise that needs to be sustained,” hence, observing the long term effects is necessary to find methods in the future.

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues

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