Figure 6: Bubble plot of the 19 controlled effects sizes against Intensity of mindfulness training and regression line. R2 (adjusted) = 0.52. [Zenner et al 2014]
Studies show promise for improving cognitive performance, stress, coping, and resilience.
With the ever-increasing interest in mindfulness-based programmes and the growing recognition that a more mindful approach to life may yield benefits in many life domains – if not in all of them – it is not surprising that demands for introducing mindfulness as early as possible into ones life, ideally already in childhood, have been expressed. Indeed, at many of my public talks members of the audience exactly expressed this view and/or asked for my take on it and what the evidence currently is. It thus comes quite handy that a recent review by Harald Walach’s group in Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany provide an up-to-date review of the current literature (Zenner, Herrnleben-Kurz, & Walach, 2014) .
Over time various attempts have been made at implementing mindfulness-based programmes in schools and to evaluate their effectiveness. In 2012 Meiklejohn et al. provided a first narrative review of the range of programmes that had been developed and thus made the quite varied literature on the topic more accessible. In short, the authors conclude that the reviewed studies provide some evidence for “improvements in working memory, attention, academic skills, social skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety, stress, and fatigue.” (p. 292; Meiklejohn et al, 2012). However, while carefully putting forward these conclusions the authors concede that the “current evidence base for mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents is limited due to issues of sample size, design, and methods of measurement.” (p. 298). To merit the integration of mindfulness into education, the evidence-base would need to be broadened and one aspect of this would be to objectively assessing the rigour of existing research.
This is exactly what the research group around Harald Walach aimed at by conducting a quantitative meta-analysis summarising the existing evidence also in statistical terms. The overall conclusion of their analysis of 24 studies is that mindfulness-based interventions for children and youths hold promise and that the currently available evidence in particular shows the benefits of mindfulness practice for improving cognitive performance but also in psychological measures of stress, coping, and resilience. The results are quite remarkable in the sense that effect sizes (a statistical measure of the strength of the change brought about by the mindfulness intervention) are large for measures of cognitive performance but still of medium size for stress, coping, and resilience, despite the large heterogeneity of studies in terms of measures, students, settings, and programmes. A further result of their analysis was that the observed improvements were strongly related to the amount of practice (i.e. intensity) that was implemented in each of the programs (see figure above).
In summary, the available research – skilfully evaluated in the presented reviews/meta-analyses – offers encouragement for the potential usefulness of mindfulness-based programmes in educational settings. However, both groups of authors conclude that the available evidence is still too limited to draw strong conclusions from it. It rather demonstrates the promise these programmes hold and “certainly justifies allocating resources to such implementations and evaluations” (p. 18, Zenner et al., 2014)
The above diagram is Figure 6 from Zenner et al., 2014.
Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools-A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 603. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00603
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G. M. ,Roach, A., et al. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness 3, 291–307. doi: 10.1007/s12671-012-0094-5 [get the pdf]
More about mindfulness in schools/education:
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