Mindfulness in Education Research Highlights

An annotated bibliography of studies of mindfulness in education.

By Emily Campbell

Although research on mindfulness, especially with children and adolescents, is still in relatively early stages, an increasing number of studies have shown the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students’ physical health, psychological well-being, social skills, academic performance, and more. Other studies have indicated that mindfulness may be effective for reducing stress and burnout in teachers and administrators as well.

The following list of selected articles, with brief descriptions of each study and its results, provides an overview of the current research on mindfulness in education. Click here for a downloadable PDF of this list.

Mindfulness and Students

Barnes, V. A., Bauza, L. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2003). Impact of stress reduction on negative school behavior in adolescents. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 1(10).

Forty-five African American adolescents (ages 15–18 years) were randomly assigned to either a Transcendental Meditation (TM) group (n = 25) or a health education control group (n = 20). The TM group engaged in 15-min meditation sessions at home and at school each day for 4 months. The control group was presented 15-min sessions of health education at school each day for 4 months. Findings demonstrated that the students who received the TM program showed reduced rates of absenteeism, rule infractions, and suspensions compared to the control group.

Barnes, V. A., Treiber, F. A., & Davis, H. (2001). Impact of transcendental meditation on cardiovascular function at rest and during acute stress in adolescents with high normal blood pressure. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 51, 597–605.

This study examined the impact of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program on cardiovascular reactivity in adolescents with high normal blood pressure. Thirty-five adolescents (34 African Americans) were randomly assigned to either TM (n = 17) or health education control (CTL, n = 18) groups. The TM group engaged in 15-min meditation twice each day for 2 months. The TM program appeared to have a beneficial impact upon cardiovascular functioning at rest and during acute laboratory stress in adolescents at-risk for hypertension, as the TM group exhibited greater decreases in resting blood pressure as well as other improvements compared to the control group.

Beauchemin, J., Hutchins, T. L., & Patterson, F. (2008). Mindfulness meditation may lessen anxiety, promote social skills, and improve academic performance among adolescents with learning disabilities. Complementary Health Practice Review, 13, 34–45.

Students with learning disabilities (LD; defined by compromised academic performance) often have higher levels of anxiety, school-related stress, and less optimal social skills compared with their typically developing peers. Previous health research indicates that meditation and relaxation training may be effective in reducing anxiety and promoting social skills. This pilot study used a pre–post no-control design to examine feasibility of, attitudes toward, and outcomes of a 5-week mindfulness meditation intervention administered to 34 adolescents diagnosed with LD. Post-intervention survey responses overwhelmingly expressed positive attitudes toward the program. All outcome measures showed significant improvement, with participants who completed the program demonstrating decreased state and trait anxiety, enhanced social skills, and improved academic performance.

Birdee, G. S., Yeh, G. Y., Wayne, P. M., Phillips, R. S., Davis, R. B., & Gardiner, P. (2009). Clinical applications of yoga for the pediatric population: A systematic review. Academic Pediatrics, 9, 212–220.

This review was conducted to evaluate the evidence for clinical applications of yoga among the pediatric population (0-21 years of age). Thirty-four controlled studies were identified published from 1979 to 2008. Clinical areas for which yoga has been studied include physical fitness, cardio-respiratory effects, motor skills/strength, mental health and psychological disorders, behavior and development, irritable bowel syndrome, and birth outcomes following prenatal yoga. No adverse events were reported in trials reviewed. While a large majority of studies were positive, results are preliminary based on low quantity and quality of trials. Further research of yoga for children utilizing a higher standard of methodology and reporting is warranted.

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.

Broderick, P. C., & Metz, S. (2009). Learning to BREATHE: A pilot trial of a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 2(1), 35-46.

This study reports the results of a pilot trial of Learning to BREATHE, a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents created for a classroom setting. The primary goal of the program is to support the development of emotion regulation skills through the practice of mindfulness. The total class of 120 seniors from a private girls’ school participated as part of their health curriculum. Relative to controls, participants reported decreased negative affect and increased feelings of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance. Improvements in emotion regulation and decreases in tiredness and aches and pains were significant in the treatment group at the conclusion of the program.

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.

Davidson, R. J., Dunne, J., Eccles, J. S., Engle, A., Greenberg, M., Jennings, P., . . . Vago, D. (2012). Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 146-153.

This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people.

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.

Galantino, M. L., Galbavy, R., & Quinn, L. (2008). Therapeutic effects of yoga for children: A systematic review of the literature. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 20, 66–80.

This study is a systematic review of the literature on the effect of yoga (as an exercise intervention for children) on quality of life and physical outcome measures in the pediatric population. The evidence shows physiological benefits of yoga for the pediatric population that may benefit children through the rehabilitation process, but larger clinical trials, including specific measures of quality of life, are necessary to provide definitive evidence.

Greenberg, M. T., & Harris, A. R. (2012). Nurturing mindfulness in children and youth: Current state of research. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 161-166.

This article reviews the current state of research on contemplative practices with children and youth. It reviews contemplative practices used both in treatment settings and in prevention or health promotion contexts, including school-based programs. Interventions that nurture mindfulness in children and youth may be a feasible and effective method of building resilience in universal populations and in the treatment of disorders in clinical populations. This review suggests that meditation and yoga may be associated with beneficial outcomes for children and youth, but the generally limited quality of research tempers the allowable conclusions.

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.

Harrison, L. J., Manocha, R., & Rubia, K. (2004). Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment programme for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 9, 479–497.

This study investigated meditation as a family treatment method for children with ADHD, using the techniques of Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM). Parents and children participated in a 6-week program of twice-weekly clinic sessions and regular meditation at home. Results showed improvements in children’s ADHD behavior, self-esteem, and relationship quality. Children described benefits at home (better sleep patterns, less anxiety) and at school (more able to concentrate, less conflict). Parents reported feeling happier, less stressed and more able to manage their child’s behavior.

Jensen, P., & Kenny, D. (2004). The effects of yoga on the attention and behavior of boys with Attention-Deficit ⁄ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Journal of Attention Disorders, 7, 205–216.

Boys diagnosed with ADHD by specialist pediatricians and stabilized on medication were randomly assigned to a 20-session yoga group (n = 11) or a control group (cooperative activities; n = 8). Significant improvements from pre-test to post-test were found for the yoga, but not for the control group on five subscales of a parent rating scale, along with some other positive effects. Although these data do not provide strong support for the use of yoga for ADHD, partly because the study was under-powered, they do suggest that yoga may have merit as a complementary treatment for boys with ADHD already stabilized on medication, particularly for its evening effect when medication effects are absent.

Lawlor, M. S., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Gadermann, A. M., & Zumbo, B. D. (2012). A Validation Study of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale Adapted for Children. Mindfulness, 1-12.

A total of 286 fourth to seventh grade children completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale—Children (MAAS-C), a modified version of a measure designed to assess mindfulness in adults. Results indicated that mindfulness, as assessed via the MAAS-C, was related in expected directions to indicators of well-being across