THE BLOG

A School Intervention Proven to Improve Performance, Intelligence, and Self-control?

13/10/2014 13:18 BST | Updated 10/12/2014 10:59 GMT

If you knew of a method to help students improve their grades, their self-discipline, their focus, and their ability to manage stress, would you consider offering it in schools? If the side effects included stronger interpersonal relationships and increased intelligence, would you still consider it? What if such a method existed right now, but it was not being utilized in most schools - would you think this is good educational policy and practice?

Jaw-dropping research just released out of the University of Texas and the University of Oregon has shown that a brief mindfulness intervention known as integrated body-mind training (IMBT) showed improvement in control of attention, self-regulation, and academic performance.

Self-regulation - the ability to choose an effective response to thoughts and emotions - is considered to be one of the most fundamental skills for long-term success in any endeavor. The study participants were 208 high school students between the ages of 13 and 18. For 30 minutes a day for six weeks, students were given instruction and time to practice either IBMT or relaxation training. At the end of the six weeks, the IBMT group showed significant grade improvement in mathematics as well as native and foreign language. In addition, the students even showed significant improvements on the Ravens intelligence test.

This is not the first time that mindfulness interventions have been shown to improve attention and self-control, but it is the first study to show a direct relationship between this type of intervention and academic performance in high school. Previous studies have shown that mindfulness practice improves retention of information from a lecture and scores on standardized tests for university students. Other studies have shown that mindfulness practice reduces stress among high school students. Mindfulness practice has also been associated with greater creativity.

Improvements in self-control, executive attention, academic performance, test scores, intelligence, and creativity along with reductions in stress - few interventions can boast this list of results. In terms of effectiveness, mindfulness is on par with adequate sleep and regular physical exercise. It is not just good for students - mindfulness has been shown to reduce teacher stress and burnout as well. It has been shown to build important pathways in the brain that engage areas associated with joy, kindness, compassion, and empathy as well as time management, prioritization, and organization. Mindfulness practice has even been shown to build gray matter and thicken areas of the cortex.

Despite all this evidence, mindfulness is not taught in most educational settings. Why are more schools, teachers, and parents not paying attention to mindfulness? We have an opportunity to teach our children this incredibly valuable skill (and to practice it ourselves). We have the opportunity to help our children (and ourselves) successfully negotiate a world that places significant demands upon our attention. Why wouldn't we offer this simple, portable, and powerful practice to our children? Why wouldn't we practice it ourselves? Maybe it's time.

Do you have thoughts about mindfulness in schools? Please respond in the comments section below.