Mindfulness may enhance academic performance and mental health in teenagers, research suggests.
Students who practised the form of meditation reported less stress and negative emotions such as anger. They also had better grades.
Brain scans also showed it reduces activity in the amygdala – which controls how we react to a potential threat, thereby lowering stress.
Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie are said to be fans of mindfulness, while Jennifer Lopez insists on practising meditation morning and evening.
Mindfulness, practiced by A-listers, can enhance academic performance and mental health in teenagers, according to research
Mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present moment, including your thoughts, emotions and the world around you.
Doing this has been linked to improved mental wellbeing, as well as improved cognition.
The study was performed at charter schools in Boston by a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.
John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT who was involved in both studies, said: ‘By definition, mindfulness is the ability to focus attention on the present moment, as opposed to being distracted by external things or internal thoughts.
‘If you’re focused on the teacher in front of you, or the homework in front of you, that should be good for learning.’
The research was broken into two studies, the first led by Dr Clemens Bauer of MIT.
Around 100 11-12 year olds were studied, according to the paper published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.
Half of the students did mindfulness training every day for eight weeks, while the other half took a coding class.
DOES MINDFULNESS REALLY WORK?
A German study found mindfulness relieves tension by 51 per cent by boosting regions of the brain associated with attention, function and compassion.
Researchers analysed the brain scans of more than 300 people aged between 20 and 55 years old.
Different aspects of mindfulness were practiced for six days a week for a total of 30 minutes a day over three months.
The participants also underwent behavioural tests and MRI brain scans, according to the study published in journal Science Advances in 2017.
Blood samples were taken before and after the study to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Results reveal mindfulness reduces cortisol levels by 51 per cent, and all of the participants reported feeling better after three months.
However, the same year, a panel of 15 health experts led by a clinical psychologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, said there is no sufficient evidence mindfulness works.
They analyzed whether mindfulness helps with problems such as stress, depression, addiction and pain. But 70 per cent of clinical trials could not provide conclusive results.
Co-author Willoughby Britton wrote in the article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science: ‘The possibility of unsafe or adverse effects has been largely ignored.’
A study published in 2019 suggested if you want to relieve stress, you’re better off playing games on your smartphone.
The game app Block! Hexa was found to reduce stress after a hard day’s work more effectively than mindfulness app Headspeace by researchers at University College London and the University of Bath.
The mindfulness exercises encouraged students to pay attention to their breath, and to focus on the present moment rather than thoughts of the past or the future.
Students who received the mindfulness training reported that their stress levels went down after the training, while the students in the control group did not.
Students in the mindfulness training group also reported fewer negative feelings, such as sadness or anger, after the study.
About 40 of the students also had brain imaging before and after training.
The researchers measured activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain which controls our reaction to danger.
The students were presented with pictures of faces expressing different emotions.
At the beginning of the study, before any training, students who reported higher stress levels showed more amygdala activity when they saw fearful faces.
After the mindfulness training, students showed a lesser amygdala response when they saw the fearful faces, which supported the finding that they felt less stressed.
John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT said: ‘There’s a lot of evidence that an overly strong amygdala response to negative things is associated with high stress in early childhood and risk for depression.’
The second study, published in the journal Mind, Brain, and Education and led by Dr Camila Caballero from Yale University, involved more than 2,000 students aged 10-14.
The students were given a questionnaire based on the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale, which asks how strongly the participant agrees with statements such as ‘I rush through activities without being really attentive to them’.
The researchers compared the questionnaire results with students’ performance at school and attendance.
Students who showed to be more mindful tended to have better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions.
Professor Gabrieli said: ‘People had not asked that question in any quantitative sense at all, as to whether a more mindful child is more likely to fare better in school. This is the first paper that says there is a relationship between the two.’
The researchers now plan to do a full school-year study, with a larger group of students across many schools, to examine the longer-term effects of mindfulness training.
In the short-term, programmes such as the one used in the study, which is eight weeks, do not have a lasting impact, Professor Gabrieli said.
He said: ‘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.’