Does mindfulness practice increase academic performance, and if so, how?
August 3, 2022 10:50 PM   Subscribe

I've heard it suggested that mindfulness practice increases academic performance, but I'm having trouble finding relevant info, especially non-anecdotal info. Can anyone either provide me with firsthand expert knowledge or point me in the direction of some good research, books, etc. (either confirming or refuting the hypothesis)? A few specifics inside.

I'm particularly interested in:
- Under what conditions is mindfulness practice a successful intervention? Under what conditions is it not?
- Related to the above point, is there a type of student that benefits most/least from mindfulness interventions?
- Anything having to do with high schoolers or college students (populations I work with, hence some of my interest)
- Anything having to do with standardized test preparation (SAT, ACT, etc.) - this is high stakes stuff for a lot of kids
- Anything that not only shows mindfulness to be effective, but also explains why it is effective
posted by rjacobs to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What do you mean exactly by the term 'mindfulness'? Do you mean the generic 'being mindful' or 'mindfulness' stemming from a mindful meditation practice?
posted by Thella at 1:06 AM on August 4

Sorry, I should have read your title more closely. You say "mindfulness practice" so I guess you mean mindful meditation practice.
posted by Thella at 1:31 AM on August 4

I'm a certified Mindful Schools teacher and I can tell you that good studies are few and far between, but it seems the answers are mixed. There are not many standard mindfulness curricula out there, so you need to take all studies with a dose of skepticism.

When looking for studies, focus on new ones, as there are really only a few recognized Mindfulness Curricula out there; and you want to find studies that link to those practices in particular.

A recent study indicated that mindfulness practice has little to no effect on elementary school kids at all because developmentally they cannot access the practice and are instead bored by it.

But another study looks at older kids and finds a strong relationship between resilience and and academics, noting that a mindfulness practice can cultivate resilience. Resilience is critical in strong academic achievement.

This is really one of those areas where one can find studies to support what they want to believe. Having taught mindfulness for Kindergartners through high schoolers, I can attest that it can be somewhat effective for older kids but has very little effect on little ones.

It can be one small tool, but now having taught this for a few years I can say for certain it's definitely not the be all end all that folx thought it would be.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:00 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]

A search term that will help you find articles about this is “contemplative pedagogy.”

There is a conference every year called ACMHE (Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education) and there’s a journal, JOCI, the Journal for Contemplative Inquiry. The K-12 cousin to that association is AME (Association for Mindfulness in Education), they have a very active listserv that could be a source of articles. I’d probably start here on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s resources page.

Regarding your questions, there’s a tension in applying “mindfulness,” which is a western term/concept evolved from ancient wisdom. There’s a saying “Meditation is useless,” meaning if you try to use it for something, you’re doing it wrong. That said, one condition that seems to be important in contemplative pedagogy is that the teacher comes from a place of experience and has a deep practice themselves. All sorts of things come up when we go to a place of truly paying attention to the world around us. To quote Thomas Merton:
“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish, or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depth of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding.”
There’s work being done around trauma-sensitive mindfulness that may also be of interest.
posted by 10ch at 6:00 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Well, mindfulness meditation promotes self-regulation, and self-regulation is very strongly correlated with academic performance. I personally think it has been a bit hyped up as a cure-all, but can't really hurt. I do worry about people doing mindfulness without the spiritual component, because that seems, at the very least, disrespectful to the practice. But that is my own bias.
posted by nixxon at 3:11 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

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