Meditation in Education

Can something as simple as designated quiet time for 15 minutes twice a day help struggling students perform better in school? After adopting this approach for three years, one school in a troubled area of San Francisco saw suspension rates drop by 79 percent, attendance rise 98 percent, and grade point averages increase.

Yesterday’s New York Times reported on this school and other studies in the Bay Area, which also showed encouraging results. While these types of studies are still in their infancy, schools around the country are jumping on the meditation train in search of a cost-effective ways to nurture healthier and more focused students.

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Image: Shutterstock

In our new briefing paper, “The Mindful Brain,” we look at the science behind meditation and how mindfulness practices may affect attention and behavior, talking to two prominent voices in the field: Richard Davidson, director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Michael Posner, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon and Dana Alliance member.

From a neuroscience perspective, the attraction to apply mindfulness to education stems from how the practice changes the brain. Meditation broadly influences two major brain systems, explains Davidson: attention and emotion. The regulation of these systems is key—the ability to focus attention without distraction in the first case and the capacity to exercise control over emotional impulses in the second.

These effects may be connected to the anterior cingulate, a major hub of the attention circuit that is also involved in cognitive and emotional control, says Posner, who has spent his career studying the attention system.

A recent research focus is how mindfulness practices influence the connectivity among the brain regions that comprise these circuits, Davidson says. “Some of the effects of meditation—some people would say a lot of them—may be on the alterations in connectivity of these circuits, which play important roles in both attention and emotion regulation.”

Initial pilot studies on meditation and education have shown positive benefits among students and teachers, but the field is still lacking in longitudinal studies to evaluate the long-term effects—something Davidson and others are hoping to correct in the coming years.

Learn more about Davidson’s and Posner’s research by reading the full briefing paper.

– Ann L. Whitman

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