Research on Mindfulness

Are you looking for mindfulness research and resources to help parents, staff, and administrators understand the impact of this work? Share this research page with your principal, PTA, or peers to help make the case for mindfulness in schools.

This page summarizes research on the benefits of mindfulness, including neuroscience, latest scientific studies, and specific benefits for educators and students. It also includes research studies on the Mindful Schools curriculum and the benefits for our course graduates and the students they serve.


The Benefits of Mindfulness

Scholarly research finds that mindfulness practice decreases stress and anxiety, increases attention, improves interpersonal relationships, strengthens compassion, and confers a host of other benefits.  Below is a summary of research findings on the benefits of mindfulness particularly relevant to educators.

Improved Attention

Numerous studies show improved attention 1, including better performance on objective tasks that require an extensive concentration span2.

Emotional Regulation

Mindfulness is associated with emotion regulation across a number of studies3. Mindfulness creates changes in the brain that correspond to less reactivity 4, and better ability to engage in tasks even when emotions are activated5.

Greater Compassion

People randomly assigned to mindfulness training are more likely to help someone in need6 and have greater self-compassion.7

Reduction of Stress and Anxiety

Mindfulness reduces feelings of stress8 and improves anxiety and distress when placed in a stressful social situation.9

Mindfulness Literally Changes Our Brains

1. The amygdala is activated when detecting and reacting to emotions especially difficult or strong emotions such as fear. Following mindfulness training, this part of the brain is less activated10 and has less gray matter density11.

2. The hippocampus is critical to learning and memory and helps regulate the amygdala. The hippocampus is more activated12, and produces more gray matter density13 following mindfulness training.

3. The prefrontal cortex is most associated with maturity, including regulating emotions and behaviors and making wise decisions. This part of the brain is more activated and developed following mindfulness training14.

The Benefits of Mindfulness in Education

Research shows that stressed teachers impact students’ stress levels and student stress impacts learning outcomes. Students learn better in a climate that is more emotionally positive. Studies have demonstrated a link between positive emotional classroom climates and academic achievement.

Benefits for Educators

When teachers learn mindfulness, they not only reap personal benefits such as reduced stress and burnout15 but their schools do as well. In randomized controlled trials, teachers who learned mindfulness experienced:

  • Reduced stress and burnout15
  • Greater efficacy in doing their jobs16
  • More emotionally supportive classrooms17
  • Better classroom organization18

Benefits for Students

Studies find that youth benefit from learning mindfulness in terms of improved cognitive outcomes, social-emotional skills, and well being. In turn, such benefits may lead to long-term improvements in life. For example, social skills in kindergarten predict improved education, employment, crime, substance abuse and mental health outcomes in adulthood19. Research finds that youth who practice mindfulness experience develop:

Attention & Learning Skills

  • Attention & focus20
  • Cognitive development21

Social & Emotional Skills

  • Behavior in school22
  • Empathy & perspective taking23
  • Social-skills24

Resilience

  • Emotional regulation25
  • Anxiety26 & stress27
  • Post-traumatic symptoms28
  • Depression29

Our Results: Mindful Schools Online Training

We conduct graduate surveys to learn more about the impact our graduates are having, how our courses have affected them, and how we can serve them better. We also conduct pre and post surveys each time we teach a course in order to test for significant improvements on validated measures. Below is a summary from these two types of surveys from participants who have taken our Mindfulness Fundamentals or Mindful Educator Essentials trainings.

Educator Results

90%

Report lower stress and greater self-compassion

82%

Connect better with students

80%

Deliver curriculum with more ease

77%

Are more satisfied with their jobs

Student Results

89%

Improve emotional regulation

83%

Improve focus

76%

Demonstrate greater compassion

79%

Improve engagement

As reported by teachers

Our Results: Mindful Schools Research Study

In the 2011–12 school year, Mindful Schools researchers partnered with the University of California, Davis to conduct one of the largest randomized-controlled studies to date on mindfulness and children, The study involved 937 children and 47 teachers in three Oakland public elementary schools.

The Mindful Schools curriculum (taught to educators through our Mindful Educator Essentials course) produced statistically significant improvements in paying attention and participation in class activities versus the control group with just four hours of mindfulness instruction for the students—a very small, low-cost dose. Further instruction through our training courses could produce even more benefits.

More details about the Mindful Schools study.

Additional Research: Mindful Schools curriculum reduces depressive symptoms

A 2010 pilot study30 found that the Mindful Schools elementary-grades curriculum reduced depressive symptoms among minority children. Researchers randomized eighteen minority children at a summer camp to either mindfulness or health education. Children were ages 8-11. 64% were from Caribbean and Central American countries. An instructor led ten 15-minute lessons from the Mindful Schools curriculum. The mindfulness group showed significantly more reduction in depressive symptoms than the control group. Anxiety results were in the same direction but not significant (p=.07).

The researchers concluded that the results “show promise for the use of mindfulness to decrease particularly depressive symptoms in minority children. In addition, there is evidence that a larger sample size might enable distinction between the groups for anxiety symptoms.” They also praised the Mindful Schools curriculum, noting that children “engaged completely in the activities” of the curriculum.

Get Started

Explore Mindful Schools’ professional development programs to start training your faculty and staff.

Further Reading

1 Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593–600.

Sedlmeier, P., Eberth, J., Schwarz, M., Zimmermann, D., Haarig, F., Jaeger, S., & Kunze, S. (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1139.

2 Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119.

3 Roemer, L., Williston, S. K., & Rollins, L. G. (2015). Mindfulness and emotion regulation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 52–57.

4 Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83.

5 Ortner, C. N., Kilner, S. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2007). Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task. Motivation and Emotion, 31(4), 271–283.

6 Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2125–2127.

7 Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self-­compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359–371.

Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A Pilot Study and Randomized Controlled Trial of the Mindful Self-­Compassion Program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 28–44.

Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-­care to caregivers: effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105.

8 Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-­based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-­analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593–600.

Pbert, L., Madison, J. M., Druker, S., Olendzki, N., Magner, R., Reed, G., … Carmody, J. (2012). Effect of mindfulness training on asthma quality of life and lung function: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax, 67(9), 769–776.

9 Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., … Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.

10 Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169.

Desbordes, G., Negi, L. T., Pace, T. W., Wallace, B. A., Raison, C. L., & Schwartz, E. L. (2012). Effects of mindful-­attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-­meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6.

11 Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., … Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11–17.

12 Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83.

13 Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43.

14 Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40(08), 1239–1252.

15 Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182–195.

Jennings, P. A., Frank, J. L., Snowberg, K. E., Coccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Improving Classroom Learning Environments by Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE): Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. School Psychology Quarterly, 28(4), 374–390.

Kemeny, M. E., Foltz, C., Cavanagh, J. F., Cullen, M., Giese-­Davis, J., Jennings, P., … Wallace, B. A. (2012). Contemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses. Emotion, 12(2), 338.

Roeser, R., Schonert-­Reichl, K. A., Jha, A., Cullen, M., Wallace, L., Wilensky, R., … Harrison, J. (2013). Mindfulness training and reductions in teacher stress and burnout: Results from two randomized, waitlist-­control field trials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 787–804.

16 Jennings, P. A., Frank, J. L., Snowberg, K. E., Coccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Improving Classroom Learning Environments by Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE): Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. School Psychology Quarterly, 28(4), 374–390.

17 Jennings, P. A., Brown, J. L., Frank, J. L., Doyle, S. L., Tanler, R., Rasheed, D., DeWeese, A., DeMauro, A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2015). Promoting teachers’ social and emotional competence, well-being and classroom quality: a randomized controlled trial of the CARE for Teachers Professional Development Program. In C. Bradshaw (Ed.), Examining the impact of school-based prevention programs on teachers: findings from three randomized trials. Washington D.C: Symposium presented at the Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting. (Submitted for Initial Review).

18 Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182–195.

19 Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-­Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283–2290.

20 Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-9.

Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229.

21 Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

22 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), 1–7.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229.

23 Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

24 Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

25 Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The effectiveness of the learning to BREATHE program on adolescent emotion regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252–272.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

26 Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.

27 Barnes, V. A., Davis, H. C., Murzynowski, J. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2004). Impact of meditation on resting and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in youth. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 909-914.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985–994.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-8.

Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

28 Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-­Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-­8.

29 Raes, F., Griffith, J. W., Van der Gucht, K., & Williams, J. M. G. (2014). School-­based prevention and reduction of depression in adolescents: A cluster-­randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness group program. Mindfulness, 5(5), 477–486.

Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-­Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-­8.

30 Liehr, P., & Diaz, N. (2010). A Pilot Study Examining the Effect of Mindfulness on Depression and Anxiety for Minority Children. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 24(1), 69–71.